I’m not the biggest fan of RPGs with Paper Mario (really only The Thousand Year Door and Super) and Pokemon being the big exceptions. I hadn’t really heard about Yo-Kai Watch until it was announced the first game would be receiving localization when I started hearing things like it being huge in Japan (the second movie beat Star Wars on opening weekend) and its popularity competing with Pokemon. I thought this would be another Digimon situation where they’re compared and it would somewhat fizzle out of the mainstream soon but after seeing gameplay and hearing opinions of people I knew to be in a similar opinions towards RPGs as me I decided to give it a try.
While on the surface it may look a lot like Pokemon, Yo-Kai Watch is actually quite different. You spend your time in one city broken into five or six smaller areas with a quest system to progress the story. This immediately removes the sense of adventure exploring a region gives in Pokemon. I also realized from pre-release material and screens from the anime that I’ve seen all the Yo-Kai looked pretty urban. Something I liked about Pokemon was going into a cave and finding rocks and bats or a snow covered area with ice types which appeared, and to an extent, ended up being absent. Another noticeable absence is something that is different from every other RPG I’ve played, the enemy encounters.
To find wild Yo-Kai you don’t run around in a patch of grass or go swimming, instead you watch a radar in the top right of the screen and play a game of “Hot&Cold” until you’re next to a car or a tree and you have to chase them with another radar. This one is either controlled with your stylus or the circle pad and you have to keep the Yo-Kai within the radar for a few seconds before I guess they get mad and attack. This was interesting at first but when it came time to grind I found it a bit annoying as I had to track it and annoy it before I could battle it. There are areas such as alley ways and caves where Yo-Kai are walking around in the open but sometimes you don’t want to walk around much and you can’t guarantee their rank (I’ll go over this later) or at least I never found a way to.
I didn’t dislike the one big city idea as much as I thought I would there were still a couple problems. One is it takes a long time to go from one end to the other (especially since you have to obey traffic laws and look at the touch screen frequently for the map). You also have a stamina meter and can only run for so long meaning I just stuck with the circle pad (which was about the speed of Pokemon X and Y’s roller skates but easier to control) until I got the bike. The bike isn’t perfect as you can’t use it on stairs and instantly jump off which is annoying. You do get a fast travel option about halfway but you have to go back to specific areas and talk to a Yo-Kai that wasn’t there until you unlock it to fast travel there. Another issue is it was hard to memorize locations. In Pokemon even if I don’t remember exactly where a specific building is if I have to go there I’m generally told the city or town and they aren’t very big so I’ll find it pretty quick. In Yo-Kai Watch you get an arrow on the touch screen for story missions pointing you where to go but for side quests you have to keep opening the quest map (which is way more detailed that the touch screen map and hard to tell exactly where areas might actually be) to make sure you’re on the right track which generally made me only do them if I didn’t have to leave the area or if I did know exactly where I was needed to go. I wish there was a way to set waypoints or something as it would have pretty much removed this specific issue.
Each Yo-Kai has a rank which is a much bigger issue than I would have liked. You end up having to either do a ton of grinding to keep your E or D Yo-Kai able to fight against boss B or A Yo-Kai or you have to replace them (which I never like doing in these monster catching games) and then grind the replacements. Yo-Kai also don’t have any real “evolution” method. You do unlock fusion later on but that requires having the right Yo-Kai and going to a specific area. I did it a couple times and think I ended up better off but you pretty much have to Google what Yo-Kai can fuse with the one you want to be stronger, can you actually do it as some get replaced by another one no matter what you do and if it’s even worth it. You also have to actually capture the other Yo-Kai which can be annoying (I’ll go over in a bit). I read in Yo-Kai Watch 2 they can fuse automatically by reaching a certain level (hopefully the name was changed) which is very welcome.
The battle system is something I was unsure of going in but came out fairly positive. Basically you send three Yo-Kai out at a time with the other three in reserves. You have a wheel on the touch screen and can rotate it to get your other Yo-Kai out. Your Yo-Kai will automatically attack which is where I thought I’d hate it. Why would I want to watch a battle? If I wanted that I’d just look up a LP or watch the anime. This ended up being fine as you still had to pay attention to your Yo-Kai’s health and if they were inspirited (a status element that makes them unable to attack). You have other options surrounding the wheel. These include Soultimate which allows your Yo-Kai to use a special move if their Soul Meter is full. You’ll have to preform some sort of task such as spinning a wheel or tracing 3 shapes. Target which you move a reticle to decide where you want your Yo-Kai to target. This has other functions as you shoot a thumbtack which can be used to break open floating orbs and get bonuses. It’s also the only way to see non-boss Yo-Kai health. Purify which allows you to get rid of the inspirited status but only on Yo-Kai not actively in battle. You have to preform a task (similar to Soultimate) to achieve this and you’ll get a bonus in EXP or money gained from the battle. Lastly is item which allows you to use an item. My only real issues where I wish you could do something to encourage your Yo-Kai to do certain things. Often bosses couldn’t be affected by status effects yet my Yo-Kai kept wasting their turn using a status attack which was annoying. I also thought the item cool down lasted way too long. I think it’s supposed to be a turn but sometimes it felt like the boss attacked two or three times before I could use another item and heal.
Befriending Yo-Kai was way more annoying than it had any right to be. You had to make them like you during the battle which is easiest done by throwing an item at them. These made them like you a different amount so the more expensive ones made them like you more. You could only throw one item at each enemy and you don’t find out they decided to join you until the end of the battle. I wish this was an option but there was also something like a Pokeball I could use or I could use multiple items on an enemy. You can also use a machine called “Crank-a-Kai” which you can either use special coins you find or play coins but you can get both Yo-Kai and items using this and the Yo-Kai you get is random. You can also only use it 3 times a day and the day resets when your 3DS clock says its 6 AM. I didn’t experiment if changing the clock would allow you to do more or if it locked you out for 24 hours like Pokemon so do this at your own risk.
The story was nothing special. It’s a kids game so it’s excusable but it did introduce a plot element near the end that never gets any real mention other than “by the way, this is a thing but you’ll never know why!”. If you’re a fan of shounen manga or anime you’ll probably feel right at home as it has the same skeletal plot as many fantasy shounen titles. You never fought any other “Yo-Kai trainers” with bosses being just strong Yo-Kai (sometimes joining the roamers later on) but I did like the boss battles the most. You often had to exploit a weak point and sometimes you had to deal with something on top of that such as using your target thumbtacks to attack seemingly background objects the boss can use to heal or attack you with.
The game looked pretty good for 3DS. Everything had 3D models and turning the 3D up worked anywhere and didn’t cause any lag (what’s up with that Game Freak?) though it didn’t really do much so I mostly left it off. I noticed minor frame dips during cut scenes as well as when a big attack was being used (that might have been a choice by the developers) but other than that it ran fine.
There wasn’t very much variety in music tracks which would be due to the lack of multiple towns. What music was in the game was really catchy and I found myself humming along to a few tracks. I just wish there was more. The cut scenes were voiced along with hearing a Yo-Kai’s name when you befriend them and Jibanyan’s “Paws of fury” Soltimate attack (Tornyan, who I got, wasn’t) which apparently was only in the English version of Yo-Kai Watch but added to the series in Yo-Kai Watch 2 for Japan.