[Updated on 3/7/16 with Yo-Kai Watch Medallion Interaction Video]:
In 1997 Nintendo unleashed Pokémon on U.S. shores and it became a phenomenon, revitalizing an almost-dead Game Boy ecosystem. With hundreds of millions of dollars in game and merchandise sales, it’s safe to say that the gamble to port a very Japanese RPG to the west was a massive success. Nintendo hopes to capture lightning in a bottle once again with Yo-Kai Watch, a Pokémon-style RPG developed by Level 5 (makers of Professor Layton and Fantasy Life). With a cartoon that just started airing and a toy line coming soon, the game lands right in the middle of it all, just in time for the holiday season.
Yo-Kai are ghost-like creatures and monsters that can’t be seen by the human eye, but are seemingly everywhere. OK, so maybe Nintendo’s official press release specifically says they aren’t creatures, or monsters, or ghosts (they are simply Yo-Kai), but that’s silly. I mean some of them are born from the souls of deceased humans. That sounds awfully close to a ghost to me. Anyway, these cute pets of death are all around us, but they can be captured, well technically befriended, by battling and defeating them. You will use each Yo-Kai’s unique powers and skills to defeat the evil Yo-Kai. You can have up to six fighters on your team at a time.
In my playtime with the game demo, I felt the battle system was pretty shallow. You can swap out one Yo-Kai for another by spinning the wheel on the touch screen. All of your allies auto-attack with no button presses needed. For a more powerful special you can tap Soultimate and then the character you select will unleash a more powerful technique, complete with a short animated sequence. That is, assuming you’ve filled up a gauge by playing a quick mini-game on the touchscreen. These range from something as simple as tapping circles as they appear on the screen to tracing lines to create unique shapes to spinning a circle as fast as you can. Once successful, the Soultimate can be summoned. Some have damaging attacks and other have stat boosts or healing. I found the reliance on the touchscreen to be very distracting as I wasn’t able to keep an eye on the battle raging forth on the top screen. I’m not sure if it was a limitation of the demo or if this is the full-blown battle system, but I felt each Yo-Kai was extremely limited in attack choices. Basically there is the auto-attack and the special move. I was honestly quite bored by the end of this short demo.
I must make special mention of the graphics because they are beautifully drawn and look like something straight out of an animated cartoon. There are animé cinema scenes that look great and are completely voiced. The Yo-Kai I encountered looked fantastic and charming, and the names are clever, reminding me a bit of Dragon Quest. The music seemed very well executed and exuded a happy feeling while trotting around the neighborhood. Level 5 sure knows how to work the 3DS to get some nice audio and visuals.
The story is definitely geared toward the younger crowd. I feel it might be focused too much in that direction because I really didn’t dig the simplicity of the combat and the “go to point A, now go to point B” linearity of the game thus far. To be fair, there is some optional exploring, with an energy meter that will detect if Yo-Kai are nearby. If it goes into the red, you can scan the environment with the stylus to try and discover the hidden creature. Once located, you must move the stylus and keep the lens on the Yo-Kai until the meter fills up and you can engage it in battle. The problem is I did not like the battle system in the least, and if I don’t enjoy a battle system in an RPG it’s most likely a lost cause for me as that’s where the majority of time is usually spent in games like these.
Yo-Kai Watch will launch in the U.S. on November 6 (also known as Call of Duty Black Ops 3 day to the rest of the gaming industry). I might still check it out. I’m not feeling it so far, but maybe there’s more than meets the eye with the combat. If you’ve had a chance to play the demo, or maybe you imported the game and played it when it originally came out in Japan. Either way let me know your thoughts below.
Update: Yo-Kai Watch Commercial: