Build a Supernatural Entourage
The Western release of the original Yo-kai Watch for Nintendo 3DS finally brought Level-5’s Japanese monster-collecting RPG phenomenon overseas. The first game had flaws, notably its battle system, monster-befriending mechanics, and fragmented story progression. While the game gained a following, it didn’t live up to the lofty precedents from its home country. Despite this, Nintendo and Level-5 have given the franchise another chance in the West with Yo-kai Watch 2 for 3DS. À la Pokémon, the game has two versions: Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls. Each come with its own set of exclusive monsters but are otherwise similar. While it is easy to compare this series to Pokémon, Yo-kai Watch is its own unique breed. With general gameplay improvements over the original and plenty of new quirky ghouls, Yo-kai Watch 2 may find a home in the hearts of monster-collecting fans.
Yo-kai Watch 2’s story builds upon the Saturday morning cartoon concepts of its predecessor. Yo-kai are mysterious ghoulish creatures that cause numerous daily problems. For example, if you suddenly forget something, begin to sweat profusely, or get over-excited, you may be inspirited by a Yo-kai. Many Yo-kai are based on Japanese myths and folklore, and a stellar localization ensures that fans outside Japan can appreciate the cultural creatures. For example, Predictabull is a human-like bull based on a mythical beast that can predict misfortune, but the localized name itself helps unfamiliar players understand some of the significance. The quirky Yo-kai are easily the stars of the game, and with over 180 additions in this installment, there are hundreds of fun spirits to befriend.
YW2 begins with the (male or female) protagonist forgetting all memories from the first game. While it is a common trope, he quickly regains the memories following a helpful tutorial, which streamlines the gameplay elements from YW into an easily digestible two-hour lesson. Following that, the hero is able to go back in time 60 years to meet his grandfather, who also has the ability to see Yo-kai. As you travel between past and present, you discover a scheme that could alter both time periods. The story is more cohesive than the original’s, with less filler elements breaking up the pacing. The main plot is still divided into episodes, but nearly every part contributes something meaningful. The game is even more humorous with tongue-in-cheek jokes reminding players to simply enjoy the wacky world. As a result, YW2’s campaign is more satisfying.
There are several improvements over YW, but the battle system and befriending mechanics are mostly unchanged, for better or for worse. Using Yo-kai that you befriend throughout the game, you build a team of six monsters. Unlike traditional RPG battle systems, Yo-kai fight on their own, creating a more passive experience. However, don’t confuse passive with easy or boring. Rather, it’s better to think of the player as a general commanding Yo-kai troops in battle. While the Yo-kai battle on their own, you are in control of several aspects. For instance, you decide which three Yo-kai are in the frontlines at any time. Although you bring in a team of six, only three can fight at the same time. However, you can literally rotate your team around using a wheel on the bottom screen. By spinning the wheel, you can substitute in benched Yo-kai to continue the battle, effectively making your team a revolving door of creatures.
The player also decides whether to strike hard or get back and recover. When a Yo-kai’s Soul Meter is full, you can activate its Soultimate move, which manifests as either a strong special attack or helpful recovery/stat boost. Upon using a Soultimate, you engage in a brief touchscreen minigame like tapping bubbles or spinning a circle. When your own monsters are inspirited, or debilitated, by enemies, you can rotate them to the back and engage in a similar touchscreen-enabled purification minigame. There are only a few minigames, and only a couple are new, so it can get tedious if you do them often. The new Yo-kai Watch Model Zero tweaks the battle engine a little by allowing two new actions: M-Spirits and Poking. M-Spirits are supercharged Soultimate moves that draw upon the Soul Meters of the Yo-kai next to the user. Meanwhile, poking a Yo-kai in certain sweet spots nets bonuses such as a higher chance of befriending the enemy. Lastly, players can target which opponents to attack and use items to affect the flow of battle.
There is clearly more to the auto-battle system than meets the eye, and it can get overwhelming keeping track of everything during a fight. Boss battles especially can get heated since you must strategize and target weak spots, similarly to fighting bosses in platformers and adventure games. Unfortunately, those who didn’t like the battle system before will likely not change their opinion. Since Yo-kai act on their own, they may not always perform your desired actions. Depending on a Yo-kai’s attitude, it may even loaf around in battle. There is quite a bit of dependency on luck, which may turn off some.
Continuing with the “Yo-kai General” analogy, preparation is half of the battle. Where you place Yo-kai on the wheel is important. For example, you may want a balance of offensive and defensive Yo-kai, or you may want to put a healer next to a weak creature. Additionally, Yo-kai belong to one of eight tribes, such as the strong Brave tribe and the quick Charming tribe. When putting two or three of the same tribe in the frontlines, they receive “Unity” stat boosts. Yo-kai attitudes also matter greatly when building your team, as they affect stats and likelihood of loafing around during battle. It’s fun to come up with team strategies that produce the greatest chance of success.
Befriending Yo-kai was one of the big complaints from the first game, and it sadly doesn’t change much in the sequel. To add a Yo-kai to your collection, you must first have the Yo-kai randomly approach you after battle to join you. You can throw its favorite food at it to improve your odds, and thankfully, the game tells you what Yo-kai like when you hover your target over it. However, it’s discouraging to use up an expensive slab of meat on a creature only to have it ignore your advances. Even worse, you must finish a battle before you can find out if it has deemed you worthy. If it doesn’t join you, you must find another one to battle. There are some additional actions you can take to improve your chances, such as “poking” a Yo-kai’s sweet spot and having the right equippable items. While this makes befriending more likely, the mechanic remains a strictly luck-based affair that is more frustrating than fun, particularly for completionists.
There are no random battles; you either find hidden Yo-kai with a special lens or engage them in dungeon areas and alleyways. In a clever effort to highlight their role as spirits that affect the world, the game introduces Baffle Boards, in which you must guess the name of a Yo-kai using clues. Once you do so, summoning them to that spot changes the world slightly. For instance, putting a Hungramps in front of the convenience store will bring in hungry customers, allowing the store to provide big discounts on its products. You can fuse certain Yo-kai together, evolve others into stronger creatures, or transform them into equippable souls that benefit their holder. Finally, you can have your favorite Yo-kai follow you around, which is a small but fun feature.
The game is immersive, leading to some of the game’s greatest strengths and weaknesses. As in the first game, most of YW2 takes place in the large town of Springdale. Though many assets are reused, there is still plenty to do and see, even if you played the first game. You can run around the town, rest at the bathhouse, give offerings to a shrine, and even attend a festival. The town of Springdale is alive, filled with interesting people and Yo-kai alike. The addition of two new areas, the rural Harrisville and the port town San Fantastico, bring more variety to the world. The game is sometimes immersive to a fault, most evidently through the game’s train, in which you must wait at every stop until you get to the right one. This is a minor issue, as it soon gets rectified once you can warp. Regardless, the few times you are forced to use the train are a waste of time, considering there is nothing to do at most stops aside from a couple of sidequests.
There are a lot of Yo-kai to befriend and sidequests to complete. An enhanced map, that both labels landmarks and guides players using arrows, heavily improves the original’s convoluted quest structure, making it more enjoyable to complete the quests. Besides NPC requests, you can also search for hidden Yo-kai Spots, enter Gate of Whimsy challenge rooms, collect new rare Yo-kai using the daily Crank-a-Kai capsule machine, and obtain a large number of achievements. An extensive postgame keeps the game alive long after you beat the 15-20 hour story.
By far, the biggest enhancement to replay value is the new online battle and trade modes. You can take on other players’ teams online in engaging six-on-six battles. Though it’s possible to get competitive, the fact that Yo-kai attack automatically makes battles somewhat dependent on luck. Nevertheless, online functionality is a huge improvement. Online trading also helps for completionists, especially since exclusive Yo-kai are split between the game’s two versions. No matter which version you have, trading makes it easier to obtain a full collection of the 300+ Yo-kai. You can also engage in these social features locally, as well as a bonus game, “Yo-kai Watch Blasters.” This multiplayer-enabled action game, based on the in-game “Terror Time” stealth-esque segment, lets you directly control a Yo-kai to battle evil Oni demons in 2D Zelda-like gameplay. It’s a decent diversion that only adds to the fully-featured package.
Graphics and Sound
The graphics contribute much to the game’s charm. The Yo-kai are all well-animated with standout designs that speak just as loud as their descriptions, and each Soultimate attack features its own mini-cutscene. The multiple towns, both past and present, are filled with intricate details and add to the immersion. Animated cutscenes look just like the anime.
The music remains as catchy as ever, with upbeat ghoulish and cartoonish battle themes and nostalgia-inducing town themes. The voice acting is fun, and each Yo-kai has at least one spoken line upon befriending, giving it personality. Some cutscenes are also fully voiced and give vibes of Saturday morning anime. Level-5 did a tremendous job with both graphical and sound design, making the world feel alive.
Yo-kai Watch 2 provides a more fulfilling experience than its predecessor. Although there are still some aspects that could be improved like the befriending system, the game makes many other improvements in story flow and sidequest structure. Battling remains a passive experience, but once you learn how to affect the tide of battle, the system can grow on you. YW2 builds upon the original’s biggest strengths, giving life to an immersive town and hundreds of Yo-kai. The 180+ new Yo-kai add to the charming roster of hilarious souls and spirits, and learning about each one is smile-inducing. The game won’t appeal to everyone, but monster-collecting enthusiasts should give Yo-kai Watch 2 a try. The only question is: will you go Bony or Fleshy?
Note: The version used for this review was Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls.