Yo-Kai Watch was originally released in Japan in 2013 and it performed really well, winning a score of 36/40 from Famitsu and outpacing any of Level-5's sales expectations by selling over seven million units in Japan alone. Of course, in its initial year of release, it was heavily outpaced by Pokemon X and Y which came out that same year. Since then, however, Yo-Kai Watch has steadily gained in sales figures (thanks in no small part to the Yo-Kai Watch anime which proved popular with Japanese children) until the release of Yo-Kai Watch 2 (in two versions this time, Ganso and Honke), which actually eclipsed the sales figures of Game Freak's Pokemon Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. It's worth noting that Yo-Kai Watch 2 is a new game in that franchise whereas ORAS was a remake, but the numbers are impressive all the same.
So far, there's little evidence to suggest that Yo-Kai Watch has sold well in North America. The nonexistence of sales figures for it speaks volumes. As such, its future as a franchise in English is unclear. It is perhaps not surprising that a game so steeped in Japanese lore and mythology may not be as runaway a hit in North America as it proved to be in Japan--but that is not to say that it's a poorly designed game or even that it fails to live up to Pokemon's legacy. Although its inspiration is obvious, it differentiates itself from Pokemon in a lot of important ways.
|Whisper the Yo-kai|
Players assume the role of an elementary school-age boy or girl (whose names are Nate and Katie according to the anime, but can be given a name of your choosing) and stumble across their first mythical Yo-Kai in the woods north of Springdale. It is the Yo-kai Whisper who calls to mind images of Casper the friendly ghost mixed with a pompous British butler. He is your guide in the early stages of the game and explains to you the game's various mechanics, including how to befriend other Yo-kai, like the enigmatic Cadin, the cicada swordsman or Jibanyan, the ghostly cat with a vendetta against oncoming traffic.
Whisper explains that Yo-kai are all around us and are secretly responsible for many daily inconveniences, such as the amorphous blob-like Dismarelda provoking arguments about nothing and the creepy floating hat-creature Wazzat causing others to spontaneously forget what they were doing. It is up to the player to seek out and befriend these Yo-kai, not just for the purpose of battling other Yo-kai, but to help out the citizens of Springdale, as well. Of course, the citizens themselves can't see the Yo-kai are there because they are not in possession of the titular Yo-Kai Watch, which reveals these spirits through the use of its glowing lens. As the game progresses, you're afforded with the opportunity to further upgrade the watch's capabilities at Blossom Heights' Timers & More--although not before performing various tasks for its proprietor, Mortimer Goodsight.
Players will find themselves performing a lot of mundane tasks for residents of the city of Springdale. It is a surprisingly sprawling city in which the entirety of the game takes place. Unlike Pokemon, in which players travel from town to town across a larger region, Yo-Kai Watch has you traversing a single city dotted with hidden passageways and back alleys, as well as an underground waterway. It's an interesting and fresh perspective on this genre of game but I'll admit to finding myself hopelessly lost on more than one occasion. Many side quests in the game require you to travel from one end of Springdale to another in an effort to find a particular Yo-kai, item, or character--and there are a huge amount of side quests to undertake, many of which are just too mundane for their own good. The ability to teleport to various regions of the city is unlocked later in the game, but there's no hint that it's coming and when it's available you've already been subjected to a lot of traveling to reach the game's various quest objectives.
I found myself enjoying the game a lot more when I stuck to the main line of quests, because they are consistently charming and memorable--and perhaps more importantly, feature combat against boss characters. The combat system in Yo-Kai Watch is very interesting and is perhaps what most differentiates it from Pokemon. Although I was initially turned off by not being able to assign orders to my Yo-kai directly, I quickly became enamored with the strategy involved in boss battles. You're required to target specific locations on bosses to succeed--and frequent switching in and out of various members of your party is required in order to purify the various status ailments these bosses inflict. Each of your six Yo-kai are positioned on a wheel, although only three are in combat at any given time. However, rotating the wheel will bring up the next Yo-kai in line, effectively switching out the Yo-kai at the end of the list. Rotating the wheel can be done at any time and is essential in combat strategy. It can be helpful to rotate the wheel in encounters when a particular Yo-kai is in danger and needs to be healed, but it can also be done just to invoke a certain bonus (such as having several of the same Tribe in combat at once, which imparts bonuses to speed, strength, etc) or to use a Soultimate special move when a benched Yo-kai's soul gauge has filled. Purifying ailments is done in a similar way to how you'll unleash Yo-kai Soultimate special moves--by inputting various commands on the touch screen, such as rubbing, tabbing, and tracing patterns.
Although Yo-Kai Watch is steeped in Japanese mythology, it is also much more whimsical in tone than Pokemon. There were several times the game made me laugh out loud, but just as many times where it made me groan, especially when it comes to such charming Yo-kai as Snotsolong and Cheeksqueak, which legitimately has a butt for a face. Alternatively, many Yo-kai have cute and memorable designs, and even the more bizarre ones like the human-faced dog Manjimutt have quirky origin stories that make them more interesting than they might first appear.
Yo-Kai Watch is a game that borrows elements from Pokemon but shares traits with the Shin Megami Tensei series as well. It has more than enough features to differentiate itself from either and stands on its own as a unique and worthwhile experience. I'd be eager to see how Level-5 evolves the format in Yo-Kai Watch 2, but of course there's no guarantee that they'll decide to localize it for a North American release, considering their silence on their debut title's reception here. I'd be disappointed if it never received an English language release, but with Pokemon Sun and Moon releasing later this year, I'm sure I'll find some way to get over it.
|Yeah, Manjimutt creeps me out.|