Review: Yo-Kai Watch (Nintendo 3DS)
- Release Date (NA): November 6, 2015
- Release Date (JP): July 11, 2013
- Publisher: Level-5, Nintendo
- Developer: Level-5
- Genres: Role-playing
- ESRB Rating: Everyone 10 and up
- PEGI Rating: Seven years and older
Single playerLocal MultiplayerOnline MultiplayerCo-operative
Released over 2 years ago in Japan and dubbed as the next big thing since Pokémon; will Yo-Kai Watch have the same impact on Western audiences?
Nintendo made a weird decision in localizing Yo-Kai Watch so late. The game clearly is stylized towards a Japanese audience, and would probably be most enjoyable to Japanese children. They didn't localize it when it came out 2 years ago, but all of a sudden they pulled a 180; they not only localized it but put tons of money into its marketing and promotion. And while the graphics look surprisingly great for a 2 year old game, and while there is actually some witty humor, the gameplay ultimately fails to create any kind of engaging experience.
A 2 year old beauty
Since we're going to be comparing this game to Pokémon throughout the review, as the two games have mostly the same premise, let's compare the graphics to a game like Pokemon X. This may seem unfair as the former came out 2 years before the latter, but remember that in Japan they were released very close to each other.
I was actually fairly blown away by the graphics from start to finish. The intro showed off some beautifully rendered CGI cutscenes with a pumped-up soundtrack running behind them. The 3D effect is used wonderfully and increases immersion in most parts of the game, except during combat (more on that later). I feel this game achieves what the 3DS set out to do in terms of the impact of the stereoscopic 3D; it is used in nearly every part of the game, and gives the handheld experience a little more of a home console feel to it. In Pokemon X, the 3D was barely ever used in the overworld, it slowed down battles, and was turned off by nearly every player because it failed to achieve this goal.
The overworld graphics are simple but pleasing to the eyes. The battle graphics could run a little smoother but compared to its contemporary Pokémon game they are top-notch. Of course, this is a Nintendo game, and you can't have one of those without ridiculous over-the-top creatures with awkwardly unique designs and bad puns for names. These are the Yo-Kai. Their designs fit in well with the beautifully-rendered environments, and look great in the occasional voice-acted FMV's. The voice acting is typical for a Japanese dub, so there's not much to say about it.
The music isn't anything special, but I feel that most of the tunes work as background music for their respective environments. It's not something I would buy the soundtrack to, but it's at least worth keeping the speakers on to listen to. There are certainly a few standout tracks however, including the Boss Battle theme and the title theme. These tracks have a mischievous, ghost-like vibe to them which fits in well with the overtones of the game's story. Take a listen for yourself.
Spiritual practical jokers
You play as Nathan, a kid who, while wandering the forest searching for bugs to catch, meets Whisper, a Yo-Kai. Yo-Kai are spiritual beings who like to play pranks and generally screw things up. They're vaguely poltergeist-like in the way that they can only have minor effects on the physical world, like misplacing objects, or causing people to have nightmares. Some of them are ghosts of dead animals or people. Normally, they are invisible to humans, but through his Yo-Kai Watch Nathan is able to see them.
You can find Yo-Kai using your Yo-Kai Radar. It's like a hot-cold system which tells you when you are close to a Yo-Kai when exploring the overworld. They're often hiding under cars or in trees. When you look under a car or wherever, you can use your Yo-Kai Lens to search for Yo-Kai within the area. Holding the lens over them for a certain period of time will initiate a battle. It's a clever little system and fits in well with the Yo-Kai lore.
There's really no central plotline to the story-- the game honestly feels like a bunch of side-quests piled up on each other with some of them having vaguely related characters. It's a shame to say that in playing through this game you will be experiencing too many mandatory fetch quests to count. However, the previously mentioned related quests have actually interesting plot developments, and carry a heavy sense of mystery about them, leaving you stumbling in the dark to find any grasp of contingency to the story. This is a good and bad thing, good because it leaves you guessing very often, bad because it shoves 5 fetch quests up your butt between any major story advancement. The story is actually pretty long, but only because of all the side quests. Getting through this game was a slog for sure.
Some of the dialogue is, as mentioned earlier, surprisingly witty. Normal video game jokes are intended for 8 year olds, and I'd say this game pushes it to about 13 or 14. For a game published by Nintendo, this is significant. Are the jokes ever funny? No, not really, but every once in a while you'll chuckle at a ridiculously horrible pun. I'm a fan of horrible puns myself so it worked for me. One thing I found funny was that you befriend a cat who was killed by a truck, so it became a Yo-Kai and in its free time punches trucks with its paws at intersections so that one day it will grow strong enough to get revenge. This kind of outlandish stuff is the type of humor that's in the game. Compared to Pokémon, the story is a masterpiece, and this game is universally revered for its contributions to the modern definition of comedy. Of course, pretty much every other game in the world beats Pokémon in the story department.
The centre of the game is the worst thing about it
You know, I appreciate it when companies come up with unique systems for battling. I really do. It's worked well for them in the past; games like Mario RPG, Pokémon, and Mario & Luigi have an amazing combat system. But this game just falls flat on its face. And this is where I relentlessly bash the game.
So your Yo-Kai use all their basic attacks on their own, without any input from the player, except for their Soultimate move, which does a lot of damage and which you "use" yourself. I say "use" because although they might have cool animations, they are accomplished by playing one of three touchscreen minigames. These same minigames are used for every single Yo-Kai's Soultimate move. So when the only control you have over your attacks is three touchscreen minigames, the combat can get really boring. This Soultimate move has a gauge which must be filled up by performing basic attacks, which means there are long waiting periods of staring at the screen with nothing for the player to do.
The other aspect of combat is the targeting system. If you hit the target button, you can throw a pin on a specific spot of a Yo-Kai to have your Yo-Kai attack that spot primarily. This is obviously just used against the gimmicky bosses who have a big pink glowing weak spot that you have to target. Whoop de doo, this system has absolutely no depth to it. You can use various food items to heal your Yo-Kai during battle. There is no uniqueness to this as it acts exactly like Pokémon and any other RPG in the world. You select a food, select a monster, and use it on it. Yay.
Perhaps the most ambitious system of combat in this game is the Yo-Kai Wheel. This wheel is basically your party, and the three Yo-Kai in the top half of the wheel always battle at the same time. You can spin the wheel to switch out various Yo-Kai during battle. This system is actually rather innovative and shows great potential, but like the rest of the combat system, this potential is squandered by pure monotony. You can't change the arrangement of the Yo-Kai wheel during battle. In fact, you can't even change it outside of battle unless you go to a specific station of which there are few of on the map. To find them you must navigate the clumsy minimap. It's just such a pain in the ass and it ruins immersion. There are certain synergies which can be achieved by placing Yo-Kai of the same type next to each other in the wheel, but there are so many different types and the Yo-Kai have such huge power gaps that this is often impractical.
Some Yo-Kai have an "Inspirit" move, which basically makes a Yo-Kai worthless and unable to attack until the condition ends. This condition can be cured by, you guessed it, minigames! You have to spin the wheel so that the affected monster is in the bottom half, then play a minigame to restore their status. This is extremely annoying when you are fighting multiple Yo-Kai with an Inspirit move, as you are constantly playing this dumb minigame and switching out monsters. It's more frustrating than fun, as is the entire wheel mechanic. This is the bulk of this game's "difficulty" which just feels forced and has no curve to it. The rest of the game is really a cinch, honestly, as you barely even have to do anything in the battles.
Compared to Pokémon, this system is so much more gimmicky and is based less on the player's actions. It's boring, it keeps your eyes on the touchscreen at all times (which ruins the nice graphics), it's based heavily on dumb minigames, and kind of ruins the rest of the experience as the central component of the game is boring and a slog to get through. The system for getting more Yo-Kai to fight with is so much more dumbed down than Pokémon. You just have a flat chance at the end of a battle that a Yo-Kai you defeated will come up and ask you to be friends with him. Feeding him food during battle can increase this chance. That's basically it.
There's no online multiplayer, only local, but that's probably a good thing since I see no way that the combat could be played competitively.
+ Beautiful graphics, especially for its age
+ A good soundtrack
+ Witty dialogue
+ Wonderful use of stereoscopic 3D
- Loose to non-existent plot line
- Ambitious but ultimately monotonous battle system
- Largely automated battle system that is more of a passive than engaging experience
- Very easy, except for the occasional frustrating boss fight
- Entirely luck-based recruiting system
The visuals are perhaps the strongest aspect of the game, and the music is pretty good too. The dialogue is clever but the story is only loosely tied together and is often shoved to the side by hundreds of side quests.
Argh. All the potential this game has is wasted by the mind-numbingly boring combat. It's an embarrassment to RPGs. It requires so little player action that you could probably just set your 3DS down on the table for the majority of the game and you'd get through mostly just fine.
The game is fairly long, lasting about 15 hours. There are also over 200 Yo-Kai to befriend. The problem is, the game is so boring that no one in their right mind would suffer through doing that.
out of 10
(not an average)
I'm interested to see if Nintendo will continue this series in America. There's definitely a lot of groundwork made in this game, but it's so unrefined that I really can't recommend buying this game. But keep an eye out for a sequel, because if the combat system was fixed, this game could have been a home run.