Yo-kai Watch 3 (3DS) Review

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.

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This is just one of many parodies in the game.

Continue reading “Yo-kai Watch 3 (3DS) Review”

Yo-kai Watch 2: Bony Spirits/Fleshy Souls (3DS) Review

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.

Story

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.

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This Yo-kai makes objects big…

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.

Gameplay

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.

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Battles are three-on-three affairs. Use the touchscreen to rotate your frontlines and activate Soultimates.

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.

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Bosses are fun to fight and strategize against.

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.

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Befriend and build a unique team of Yo-kai.

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.

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The large world of the first game has expanded in the sequel.

Replayability

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.

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Battle Yo-kai in both the present and past.

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.

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Yo-kai is Why

Conclusion

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?

Score: 8/10

Note: The version used for this review was Yo-kai Watch 2: Fleshy Souls.

What do you think of Yo-kai Watch 2? Do you have any experience with the Yo-kai Watch series, whether games, anime, or toys? Which would you choose: Bony Spirits or Fleshy Souls? Please share any thoughts you have in the comments section below!

Yo-kai Watch (3DS) Review

Yo-kai is Why

In July 2013, the Yo-kai Watch franchise took Japan by storm.  Beginning with a hit 3DS game from developers of Level-5 (of Professor Layton and Inazuma Eleven fame), the series became a phenomenon.  The game was soon complemented by a hit anime series, a top-grossing movie, a trading card game, collectible medals from the game, and lots of toys and plushes in stores.  A sequel even came out a year later.  The most obvious parallel to this is the huge Pokémon craze back in the late-90s.  Level-5 is obviously hoping to cash in on the craze in the West as well.  Regardless of how the Yo-kai craze catches on, it remains clear that the first game is indeed a fun adventure.  There are clear inspirations from Pokémon in Yo-kai Watch, and it shows in the game.  However, Yo-kai Watch is also its own unique breed and does just enough to separate itself from the other monster-collecting behemoth series.

Story

The story of Yo-kai Watch plays out just like a Saturday morning cartoon.  The main character Nate (or Katie) encounters Whisper, a Yo-kai resembling a ghost butler, in the forest.  Whisper gives our hero the Yo-kai Watch, a special tool that allows its user to locate Yo-kai.  The Yo-kai are supernatural creatures that are the reasons behind ordinary people’s issues.  For instance, there are Yo-kai that force you to reveal secrets, that cause you to feel depressed, and that make you very hungry.  While it is an interesting take on folk tales and superstition, a bulk of the game feels like it is just you trying to solve these mundane problems.  You are not a superhero, nor are you trying to be the very best at something.  There are no rivals and actual villains are few and seem to come out of nowhere.  You are just there to react to odd phenomena and solve them.  As a result, it rarely feels like there is much at stake.

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It all began one day in the forest.

There are multiple chapters in the game, but they are not related to each other.  They act as episodic installments with each chapter featuring a different issue.  Due to lack of continuity, the build-up to the end feels rushed.  Likewise, while some of the individual chapters feel like complete anime episodes, some of them are 15-minute minigames that act as intermissions, making the game feel even shorter than it is.

Regardless, the game still manages to be humorous throughout.  It is not afraid to make fun of itself and make light of the silly situations.  Even if there is no epic plot or hero’s journey, the story still put a smile on my face with its zany characters, fun dialogue, and enjoyable world.  Quirkiness is the story’s greatest strength.

Yo-kai

The Yo-kai are the big draws to this game, so being familiar with them is paramount to understanding the game as a whole.  As previously discussed, Yo-kai are creatures that are behind ordinary problems.  In a sense, they may explain why some people act in certain ways.  If something is going on, there is probably a Yo-kai nearby.  However, unlike Pokémon, Yo-kai are invisible creatures that can only be seen using a special lens on the Yo-kai Watch.  This means that only the main character can see and interact with these creatures.  This is fine, because also unlike Pokémon, Yo-kai can talk.  In fact, the main Yo-kai partner, Whisper, actually serves as your chatty tutorial.  While being the only one who can see Yo-kai may seem lonely, it also invokes the feeling of discovering this special supernatural world that is exclusive to you.

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When something is awry, Yo-kai is why

The designs of Yo-kai have an inherently Japanese feel to them.  Many of them are based on actual Japanese ghosts and monsters of legend.  They still have a cartoonish feel, preventing them from looking too scary.  A good number of Yo-kai are quite cute, including one of the big mascots, the red cat Jibanyan.  Some Yo-kai are cool-looking and represent some of the more interesting parts of Japanese culture, including a foxlike creature, a kappa, and a ninja.  However, there are also a bunch of Yo-kai that are downright hideous or odd.  For instance, Tattletell is a frail, old woman; Snotsolong is a bird with enormous snot coming out of its beak, resembling a mustache; and Cheeksqueek literally has a butt for a face.  Parents, be warned: there is quite a bit of potty humor in some of the Yo-kai’s designs.

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Yo-kai battle… in the bathhouse?

There are indeed quite a few Yo-kai, and finding a good group of them to be your partners can be difficult.  There are over 200 creatures, already eclipsing the original Pokémon games’ bundle of 151.  However, some color palette swaps make up quite a few of the species.  Although the alternately colored Yo-kai have different stats, they do account for a good number, making the total Yo-kai count seem artificially high.  In addition, some Yo-kai evolve and become a stronger, bigger version of themselves. The mechanics of this will be explained in the gameplay section.

Yo-kai vary in terms of rank, element, and tribe.  Ranks go from E to S and define the relative strength of your Yo-kai.  Each Yo-kai has a specific rank, meaning that the game is very honest about how weak starting Yo-kai are compared to their higher-ranking brethren.  You will only be able to encounter lower-ranked Yo-kai in game, but you will gain the ability to find higher-ranked ones as the rank of your Yo-kai Watch goes up.  Elements are similar to types in Pokémon and include fire, ice, and lightning.  As one would expect from an element system, each element has a relative advantage and weakness. For example, fire is strong against ice but weak to water.  This adds a rock-paper-scissors factor when deciding which Yo-kai to send out.  Finally, Yo-kai belong to 1 of 8 tribes, with each tribe excelling in a different stat, such as the brave tribe consisting of strong attackers.  There is certainly a lot to look at when determining which Yo-kai to use, which means a lot of time could be spent just deciding which of these unique creatures should be on your team.

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Overall, Yo-kai are interesting and quirky, and the game itself makes fun of how some of them look.  Regardless, the unique Japanese-based monsters are appealing and likable, and do not detract from the overall package at all.

Gameplay

Upon getting your Yo-kai Watch, you are free to explore the big bustling town of Springdale.  In order to progress with the story, you must follow the objectives.  In doing so, most of the game involves sensing Yo-kai that are causing trouble, battling them, possibly befriending them, and fighting bigger bosses.  However, you are also free to explore.  Unlike other RPGs such as Pokémon, you are limited to one town. This is actually fine, as it is a huge town with plenty to do.  Each individual screen of the town is large, and you can walk into many of the buildings, alleyways, and caves.  You can also embark on a handful of sidequests asking you to investigate people’s problems and requests, usually involving pesky Yo-kai.  Having this much freedom gives the game a western-style, open-world feel.

Battling

Regardless of how you decide to spend your time in the game, you will undoubtedly spend a lot of that time battling other Yo-kai.  By using the lens on your watch, you can search for hidden Yo-kai.  Doing so engages a small minigame in which you must keep the Yo-kai in your sights for a certain amount of time.  Upon completing the minigame, you then battle the Yo-kai.

In battles, you pit three of your Yo-kai at a time against up to three opposing Yo-kai.  You do not have direct control of your Yo-kai during battles.  Instead, they fight on their own, using one of their two possible attacks against whomever they decide to target.  After each attack, Yo-kai wait a short time before automatically performing another attack.  There are no menus to choose attacks or who should attack.  A target system does allow you to have Yo-kai aim at a specific enemy.  However, what they do is completely up to them.  As a result, battles feel passive, as if running on auto-play.  It would have been nice to at least have a simple menu of the Yo-kai’s normal attacks just to give the player some semblance of control.

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A look at the Yo-kai battle screen

That being said, there are some actions you can take to influence the battle.  They all involve the touch-screen which actually has a nice, detailed user interface.  Menu options for certain actions are presented in the corners with a large wheel of Yo-kai in the center.  You can spin the Yo-kai Watch wheel to change which creatures are in front.  If a certain Yo-kai in your team of six would do better, you can spin the wheel and instantly put it on the front lines.  However, you cannot change a Yo-kai’s position in relation to those surrounding it.  When you spin a Yo-kai to the front, you also spin the Yo-kai currently in front to the back.  Three Yo-kai are always out in front, even if they have already fainted or have a status condition.  Consequently, a Yo-kai’s position on your watch matters immensely.  This makes the process of selecting and placing Yo-kai half the battle.  You may consider putting a strong attacker next to status inducers or spreading healers between each attacker to balance out your team no matter the situation.  Finally, placing two Yo-kai of the same tribe next to each other can provide a bonus significant enough to influence the battle.  The continuous switching of Yo-kai can make battles more frenetic and strategic, even if half of the strategy is being prepared pre-battle.

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You must decide which Yo-kai are currently in front.

Additionally, by building a Yo-kai’s spirit gauge, you can manually trigger a Soultimate, or special move.  In order to activate the move, you play a quick minigame that involves either tapping buttons on the screen, tracing a design, or spinning a circle on the touch screen.  These minigames give you something to do during the battle, but can get tiring, considering how often you must perform them.

Engaging in all of these battles unfortunately gets tedious, considering the auto-battle nature and constant touch-screen engagement.  Luckily, boss battles spice it up.  These bigger battles feature Yo-kai that are larger than life, requiring different strategies than simply switching in Yo-kai and performing Soultimates.  Beating them requires smart use of the target system, aiming at specific parts of the boss to trigger openings. This is reminiscent of classic Zelda bosses in which you have to figure out how to defeat them and then mash away the moment you see a weak spot. Thus, boss battles are fresh, difficult experiences that break up the slog of normal battles.

Befriending and Evolving Yo-Kai

Befriending Yo-kai is unfortunately luck-based and somewhat difficult.  In a system more similar to games like Dragon Quest Monsters, you must throw food at Yo-kai in the hopes that they will decide to join you following the battle.  This is different from the Pokémon system in which you throw Pokéballs and receive instant feedback on whether you caught it or not.  Instead, you must first defeat the Yo-kai and pray that it will approach you after the battle.  If not, you will have to engage it again in another battle, using up more food and merely leaving it to luck.  Some Yo-kai prefer different types of food, but that not easy to figure out without looking at a guide.  Completionists beware: befriending Yo-kai takes a lot of time and effort to achieve.

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Jibanyan, one of the main mascots

Some Yo-kai can evolve as well.  Methods of evolution include leveling-up and fusing with other Yo-kai or items.  Fusion is an interesting function of evolution that is not dependent on level, but can result in some possible balance issues.  Although you can only find higher-rank Yo-kai as your watch itself ranks up, you can easily synthesize two lower-ranked monsters and create monsters of a much higher rank.  Abusing this system can break the game, assuming you were lucky enough to have the right fusion materials.

Multiplayer

Unfortunately, multiplayer is lacking as there is no online mode.  While you can do battles against others locally, the auto-battle nature of this game makes the game somewhat luck-based.  Nevertheless, having multiplayer at all is a good option in this game as it gives a reason to grind all your Yo-kai, provided you have someone to play against.  The game also supports StreetPass, which actually has some good functionality.  StreetPassing others allows you to fight and possibly recruit their Yo-kai (except for the higher ranked ones), which acts like a decent mini-multiiplayer battle.

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Play with friends locally, but not online.

Graphics and Sound

The graphics look wonderful for a 3DS game.  The town is very vibrant and colorful, immersing you into its bustling world.  A lot of detail is put into each character as well.  All of the creatures are animated beautifully in an anime-style, making each Yo-kai feel lively.  Soultimates also look particularly flashy and exciting.  In addition to cutscenes using in-game assets effectively, there are also full anime cutscenes that look as if they were lifted from the show itself.

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Jibanyan’s Soultimate

The music is upbeat and fits the cartoonish tone.  Some songs have an eerie, mysterious vibe, adding to the ghoulishness of the Yo-kai.  In particular, the battle music with its catchy tune and bass is fun to listen to.  The voice acting, which matches the anime, all sound appropriate and are never annoying.

Playtime/Replayability

The main story mode takes anywhere from 20-30 hours, depending on how many sidequests you complete.  Of course, like other games in its genre, the replay value is high as you could easily spend dozens more hours trying to get all 200+ Yo-kai, completing the 100+ quests, and grinding your team’s levels.  Doing this will depend on enjoyment and commitment to the game’s mechanics, but those who enjoy it will surely find many hours of entertainment.

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The Yo-kai Watch dance from the anime

Conclusion

Yo-Kai Watch is a fresh take on the monster-collecting genre popularized by Pokémon.  There are both good and bad deviations from the competition, but it is overall a fun experience that will please those looking for something similar to Pokémon.  The Yo-kai have a Japanese appeal that may not attract everyone, but their unique quirkiness may just win western fans over.  If the battle system and befriending mechanics were improved, it would leave a more positive overall impression.  As it stands, this first iteration of Yo-kai Watch is a well-crafted, fun experience that is a great choice for younger players and something to consider for gamers who love the monster-collecting RPG genre.

Score: 7/10

What do you think of Yo-kai Watch?  Who are your favorite Yo-kai?  Do you watch the anime or collect any of the real-life Yo-kai medals?  Are you interested in the phenomenon?  Please share your thoughts in the comments below!