Gotta Watch ‘Em All!
There was a time when I was really into Level-5’s Yo-kai Watch monster battling series. I enjoyed the anime, saw the movie in theaters, and visited the official store in Japan to get plushies of my favorite Yo-kai monsters. Then, after Yo-kai Watch 2‘s 2016 release, the franchise seemingly vanished in the West, and I forgot about it…until now. Yo-kai Watch 3 is one of the last big games launching for the Nintendo 3DS, and it is certainly big.
In Japan, Yo-kai Watch 3 launched with two versions, Sushi and Tempura. In a move similar to its competitor series Pokémon, a third edition Sukiyaki added more features and Yo-kai creatures to the base games. The Western release of Yo-kai Watch 3 is an even more expanded version of Sukiyaki, and it includes every single Yo-kai, totaling well over 600. There’s no need to trade for exclusive monsters. In the same vein as Super Smash Bros. Ultimate, everyone is here, from the adorable catlike “nyan” creatures to Cheeksqueek, the monster with a butt for a face.
In addition, the game features two protagonists, each with their own storyline. Nate, the hero of the first two games, is back, but now he has moved from his Japanese-inspired town to St. Peanutsburg, BBQ. It’s a large, bustling US-based city where everyone speaks with exaggerated Southern drawls and novel ‘Merican Yo-kai reside. In this foreign land, Nate and his Yo-kai partners, the red cat mascot Jibanyan and the ghost Whisper, run around BBQ with a new friend to unravel conspiracies. Meanwhile, the new character Hailey’s story takes place in Nate’s hometown, Springdale, an equally big area familiar to fans. Hailey’s bubbly otaku personality provides a good contrast to Nate’s, and her anime-inspired adventures as a Yo-kai Detective are fun to play out. Although the colorful, detailed top-down 3D visuals and goofy, upbeat music haven’t technically changed much over previous games, the American-style town and secondary protagonist mark a fresh change for the series.
The story does not take itself seriously, but rather embraces its craziness with caricatures of real people like CEO Mark Orckerberg and direct parodies of properties like The X-Files and Godzilla. As funny as the humor is, it doesn’t save the game’s prodding pace. You play as both Nate and Hailey in two separate storylines for the price of one. Although it sounds like a good deal, both stories have lengthy expositions. It takes several hours for any semblance of plot to develop, and the characters are stuck completing menial but mandatory sidequests. Both maps are huge with plenty of miniature dungeons, alleyways, and buildings. However, it takes long to travel between areas until you unlock fast warp. To make matters worse, there are several moments when one character will be gated off until you play more with the other. The result is a slow beginning where it feels like neither character’s story is progressing. I would have preferred the ability to continue one’s story as much as I wanted or the option to skip the other character’s story. About halfway through, the stories do converge, which fixes the pacing on top of introducing much more exciting narratives. It just takes a while to get there.
Two characters also means two separate inventories and Yo-kai teams. This unique setup provides a way to sample a bunch of different Yo-kai, but it can be overwhelming to manage everything, especially while switching between protagonists. Again, this issue resolves itself once the stories converge; both inventories and Yo-kai collections combine, and the world opens up. Essentially, Yo-kai Watch 3 is the kind of RPG where the opening chapters are relatively dull, whereas the last half and postgame are an addictive rush.
The gameplay consists of the series’ traditional monster catching and battling mechanics—but spruced up. When your Yo-kai radar detects a creature’s presence, you can search the area. This begins a new minigame where you shoot the Yo-kai as a warmup. Afterwards, the battle begins.
As in previous games, battles are three-on-three. The Yo-kai are basically on auto mode; they attack and use spells on their own. But it’s not a completely passive experience. While the Yo-kai fight, you can activate strong, special attacks called Soultimates, which initiate a touch-screen minigame such as tapping the screen or matching three on a slot machine. Similar touch-screen games occur whenever you purify one of your debuffed teammates. New to Yo-kai Watch 3 is a 3×3 grid that transforms every battle into a simplified strategy game. During battle, you can move your Yo-kai around, represented by medals on the touch screen. Yo-kai in the front can protect those in the back, and two monsters of the same tribe positioned side-by-side will get bonus buffs. In addition, you can swap medals from your reserve into the fray, and in some cases, you can dodge enemy attacks by manually sliding your medals out of harm’s way.
I like the Tactics Board system because it brings new depth, and more importantly, more agency during battle. However, even without grinding levels, most fights are easy enough that you don’t necessarily have to utilize it. Boss encounters are the shining exception. Every boss pulls out all the stops, and I was frantically moving medals around and performing one touch-screen minigame after another. I even had to use the new Yo-kai Blaster feature, which let me fire my own shots against the big bad.
Regular Yo-kai battles are the norm, but most give you the chance to befriend the monster. One Yo-kai may randomly join your team after a fight, but you have little control beyond feeding your desired creature their favorite food and hoping for the best. The luck factor has always made it difficult to “catch ‘em all” in this series. Thankfully, you can also obtain Yo-kai through other means. One is through a gacha capsule machine that lets you crank out Yo-kai and other rewards several times daily. The other method is by trading your Yo-kai medals with others online. You can also battle with friends and random opponents online, which is one way the game keeps you hooked well after the credits roll.
It’s hard to discredit how much content Yo-kai Watch has. Beyond standard RPG exploring and battling, you can engage in a ridiculously massive number of quests, including responding to NPC requests, hunting for Yo-kai, searching for treasure, or engaging in the unrelated pastimes of fishing and bug-catching. There are also loads of minigames, including one where you directly control your Yo-kai in a top-down beat-‘em-up dungeon-crawler that is an adaptation of another 3DS game Yo-kai Watch Blasters. Not all minigames are strong. The dreaded Terror Time segments task you to engage in stressful stealth missions where you must manage your limited stamina carefully to outrun enemies. A new, similar survival horror minigame Zombie Night is slightly less painful because you can sneak up behind foes and whack them with a hammer. Nonetheless, I despised both minigames and was disappointed that they were mandatory and forced upon the player at certain points.
With every single Yo-kai available in one game, Yo-kai Watch 3 is the ultimate edition of the series thus far. It may not have evolved much from 1 and 2, but its new Tactics Board combat system and novel American-inspired setting keep the game fresh. With two separate protagonists and storylines to tell, the game takes a massive 40+ hours to complete, not including the plethora of sidequests and full-fledged minigames. Unfortunately, the story drags for much of the first half, and the two towns may be too big for their own good. All things considered, this latest entry revived my fandom for Level-5’s hit series, and I wait with bated breath for what the Nintendo Switch’s Yo-kai Watch 4 has in store.
Note: A review copy was used for this article. This review was posted on DarkStation.