I’m in a battle with one of the later boss yo-kai, whose name I shan’t reveal for hopefully obvious reasons. I’m shuffling my team frantically, trying to get my healer on the field at the same time as my most heavily wounded soldiers, while simultaneously trying to avoid those soldiers being hit. At the same time, my yo-kai with a type advantage is round the opposite side of the circle.
Oh no, is the boss charging up a special attack? Yes it is. Let me focus my attacks on its weak point... too late, and now the entire front row of my team are inflicted with status conditions. I’ll cycle them round and purify them quickly. Don’t die, thunder lion, I’ll come back for you...
Battling in Yo-Kai Watch happens in real-time. It’s tense, fun, and tests your skill as well as your game knowledge and RNG-manipulation. I’d go so far as to say that some of the most minor battles can be more fun than anything main-game Pokémon titles have to offer.
Imitation is the Sincerest Form of Copyright Infringement
Because make no mistake: comparisons to Pokémon are justified, and will be made. A game where you catch monsters, hold up to six of them, and fight with them (using type differences)?
Heck, many Pokémon were based on youkai, the original supernatural Japanese creatures. Google Drowzee, Froslass, Chandelure, Dunsparce... In that respect, could you say that Pokémon is copying YKW?
(No, no you couldn’t.)
The writing is superior to Pokémon’s, for a start. The story is so insubstantial it may as well not be there, with many chapters just having you helping out a yo-kai-addled mate/family member; but the dialogue is very well translated, raising more than the occasional wry smile and chuckle. Your avatar has entertaining dialogue him/herself, and Whisper, the ghost butler, is always on hand with a gag.
Even some of the myriad yo-kai you set out to catch – sorry, befriend – have their own personalities. Cat-mascot Jibanyan’s backstory will surely have any cat owner reaching for their tissues.
This isn’t terribly surprising, seeing as YKW comes from the brains of Level-“Professor Layton”-“Inazuma XI”-5. Neither is the charming presentation of Springdale, the city you potter around, which feels charming and alive. It feels like a portrait of somebody else’s childhood, right down to being populated by monsters.
High as a Yo-Kite
The monster designs are probably worth talking about. There are two categories of yo-kai watchers: those who are interested in the creatures’ origins, and those that aren’t. Which camp you fall into will probably determine how much you like them.
Take Manjimutt, for example.
He’s ugly, and he knows it. But did you know that he came from the Japanese urban legend of the jinmenken, the human-faced dog? Did you care?
If so, like me, you’ll find YKW’s menagerie fascinating. You might recognise some yo-kai ideas (Tengloom, Baku, Noko). You might want to research others.
If not, the monsters’ designs will probably grate in comparison with the mostly well-designed Pokémon. With the yo-kai being such a large part of the game, you can probably dock a mark from my final score if you’re a “not”.
There is, however, no excuse for the large amount of palette-swapping that goes on. Take Snotsolong, a sneeze-inducing gull; and Duchoo, a duck that makes you feel poorly when you’re not. The inclusion of the latter, a useless yo-kai in its own right, adds precisely naff-all to the game, and smacks of package-padding.
Springdale has Sprungdale
The meat and potatoes of the game has you going to new places in Springdale, catching some yo-kai, exploring dungeons, and beating bosses. It’s on the actual gameplay that YKW starts to show some rough edges, albeit nothing game-shattering.
Springdale feels lovely when you’re walking around it, but for this impatient gamer, it was never quite fast enough. Not when you’re traversing different districts to carry out the many side-quests. The game has a stamina-dependant dash function, a bicycle (lovely music), and eventually a warp system, but the latter two feel like they could have been introduced earlier. (That’s without Terror Time coming into play, a randomly occurring stealth minigame-thing that is not... that... fun.)
The fighting itself is wonderful, and, as previously mentioned, better than Pokémon. Oh, Pokémon may be more tactical, with its multitude of moves and types and its precision. A yo-kai will act on its own, choosing one of a handful of abilities, or loafing, and that takes some tactics out of it.
But isn’t that more like training an animal (or spirit, or animated wardrobe) in real life? And what with having to rotate your team, target foes, fire off special moves, and “purify” status-inflicted yo-kai, it’s a busy time for your fingers and brain. The game never gets punishing, but the difficulty curve is arguably better than recent Pokémon titles.
Catching yo-kai is possibly the area where the game falls down. This author isn’t overly fond of Pokémon’s catching scheme, not when he’s throwing forty ineffectual Ultra Balls at a monster that keeps healing itself (looking at you, Primal Kyogre). YKW has, incredibly, come up with an even worse system.
Catch of the Day
A yo-kai has a small chance of joining you after you beat them. A very small chance. If you finish the battle without them joining you, tough luck. Find them again. And if they’re hard to find? Even tougher luck.
This can be boosted by feeding them their favourite food, which can be done only once per battle, to raise the chance from “non-existent” to “immaterial”. There are some abilities that make “befriending” easier, apparently. But on the whole, the combination of the yo-kai search and the player’s limited ability to influence the RNG make for a frustrating time.
I’ll admit to using a Wiki fairly copiously for YKW, mostly to determine yo-kais’ favourite foods. Otherwise that’s a lot of money that can be wasted for minimal result. The result’s minimal enough when you get the food right anyway: I must have spent hours trying to capture Negasus.
Yes, I’m bitter. Which of course is what Negasus would want.
Cletus the Slack-Jawed Yo-Kai
Even without that time, I still got a good 30 hours out of YKW’s main game and side-quests, and a bit of postgame time on top of that. I’d say I enjoyed 80% of it 90% much: it rarely blew my mind, but it was, for the most part, very pleasant.
There are issues to clean up for the sequel, which already exists in Japan (and contains even more palette-swaps). But for the freshness it brings to the monster genre, this is up there with the 3DS’ Pokémon games for me. If you can’t wait until Pokémon Sun & Moon for your monster-battling fix, or you have even a passing interest in Japanese myths and legends, then Yo-Kai Watch should tickle your monster senses.
Just... don’t let Cheeksqueek tickle your monster senses. Or any senses for that matter.
- Catching system terrible
- Journeying feels a bit slow
- Monster designs questionable
+ Battle system brilliant
+ Steeped in Japanese legends
+ Charmingly written and presented
Comparative scores from the same reviewer:
Pokémon X & Y - 7/10
Pokémon Omega Ruby & Alpha Sapphire - 8/10
Would Hidabat like it?