Yo-Kai Watch ReviewJustin Ling
I am a lover of Japanese mythology, and I am especially fascinated with the youkai, Japanese spirit-like creatures that range from women with powers over ice to nine-tailed foxes with god-like powers. Therefore, it should come as no surprise that I picked up Yo-Kai Watch when it came out in North America. The comparisons to Pokemon might cause some people to dismiss this game as as copycat, but I feel like it is different enough to have its own identity, and it is solid enough to be considered a good game.
You play as a young boy or girl who releases a Yo-kai named Whisper. In return, Whisper gives your character the Yo-kai Watch, a watch-like device that allows you to see the many Yo-kai that inhabit the city. The storyline is very simple and not very long; in fact, the main campaign is relatively short if one does not do any of the sidequests. The bulk of one playthrough will be hunting down the many different Yo-kai and completing the numerous sidequests. However, while the plot may not be groundbreaking, it is solid enough.
One of the most amazing parts of this game is the setting: the city of Springdale. Springdale, a city seemingly founded by Japanese immigrants due to numerous Japanese-style stores, train stations, and shrines, is very well made. There are many little details put in that makes this place feel alive: cars will drive around stop at red lights and railroad barriers will lower when trains go by. The city is also large enough to make one believe an actual city could use its layout, yet not big enough to make the players feel completely lost.
The battle system in this game is very interesting. Players cannot take direct control of their Yo-kai; instead, every Yo-kai has an Attitude that determines how they fight. For instance, Rough Yo-kai use physical attacks more often, while Twisted Yo-kai like to inflict status effects. Some Yo-kai will also loaf around at times, though constant use makes them less likely to loaf. This system encourages players to play around with Attitudes, taking a look at a Yo-kai's abilities and tweaking their Attitudes for optimal battle performance. For the most part, this system works, even if there are frustrating moments such as when a Yo-kai decides to loaf as a boss charges up a great laser beam to fire at the party.
The game does, unfortunately, have a few major strikes against it. The first major strike is that finding all the Yo-kai is tedious. Befriending a Yo-kai is left up to chance, though players can increase that chance by giving Yo-kai food. Even then, it might take several battles to get a Yo-kai to join you, and even then there is no guarantee that the Yo-kai joining you is the one you want. This will feel especially infuriating when the higher-ranked Yo-kai, which tend to have lower recruitment rates, begin popping up.
Speaking of recruiting problems, there is the Crank-a-kai. The Crank-a-kai offers you a chance to get items or Yo-kai by using special coins, with some Yo-kai only obtainable through the Crank-a-kai. Unfortunately, the prizes you get from each coin is already predetermined when you create a save file, meaning it can take a long, long time before you even see one of the special Yo-kai just because your save file decided to give you a bunch of common items or common Yo-kai first. I understand that it was probably meant to stop players from constantly saving and resetting getting very powerful Yo-kai early on, but I feel it would be better to have no Crank-a-kai exclusive Yo-kai, and instead have those powerful Yo-kai be obtainable by other means, such as a difficult boss fight. The game could also cut down on the number of common items and Yo-kai to make getting the rares easier and less frustrating.
One last strike against the game is the bug-catching and fishing minigame. Catching bugs and fishes serves a purpose: the critters can be traded for items, with rare critters used to get especially valuable items like Yo-kai evolution items or Crank-a-kai coins. However, the minigame itself, pressing the button to stop a cursor on a colored section of a spinner, is based entirely on luck; the cursor will sometimes land exactly where you pressed the button, but sometimes it will land several spaces ahead or several spaces back. Add the fact that getting a rare critter means landing on a red section (and there will only be a single red section), and getting rare critters becomes an exercise of praying to whatever you believe in to let that cursor land on a red section.
Despite its flaws, I still believe that Yo-Kai Watch is a great game. As a Mon-collecting game, it is solid and presents a very fascinating world. The Yo-kai have great designs and the battle system is fun to play around, especially with very fun bosses to fight against. While the Crank-a-kai and bug-catching mechanic can be a real pain, I do not feel like they make the game unsalvageable. I hope that this game does well enough so that the rest of the franchise can take root in the Western world. Here's hoping that the Yo-kai are here to stay.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.