Yo-Kai Watch - Review  

"Feelin' fine." Well, That's a Relief
by Sam Wachter

20-40 Hours
+ Great visuals
+ Cheeky, pun-filled writing
+ Fun battle system...
- ...That gets very repetitive
- Very stupid run mechanic
- Terrible recruitment system
Click here for scoring definitions 

   Level-5 is a very unique developer. It comes up with these absolutely crazy ideas and makes them into delightful gaming experiences. As a company, however, it has yet to create a game that I've been completely enamored with, and I was hoping with Yo-Kai Watch that it would change my opinion with a shake-up of the monster-capturing genre. It's hard not to compare Yo-Kai Watch to Pokémon, and while it doesn't mimic the series entirely, the similarities are obvious. For all the good that exists in Yo-Kai Watch, there's some bad too. The question is, do the positives outweigh the negatives?

   Yo-Kai Watch begins with a young boy named Nate (or a girl named Katie if the player selects a female avatar), who stumbles upon an old capsule machine next to a sacred tree behind his school. It is here that a capsule toy pops out of the machine bearing a Yo-Kai named Whisper, a friendly Casper-esque ghost. Making new Yo-Kai friends along the way, Nate and Whisper battle some nefarious Yo-Kai in an attempt to beat the power of friendship into them.

   What is fun about Yo-Kai Watch's story is that it plays out exactly as a half-an-hour episode of a Saturday morning cartoon would. Each chapter feels like a self-contained episode with only small tidbits for an overarching plotline, and it works in the game's favour. It means that chapters do not have any excessive padding outside of the player's exploration of the world and the sidequests that are scattered throughout, making it feel like an enclosed experience. It helps that the writing is charming and entertaining, and never feels like it outstays its welcome, puns and all.

   That being said, the beginning of the game isn't the easiest to navigate, as the map isn't the most intuitive. It doesn't help that it's not always easy to remember where you need to go to complete sidequests. Sadly the majority of the quests are fetch quests, so while they net Nate's companions some additional experience points, there's not a lot of variety to them. The quest log gives minimal amounts of information, so it's not always easy to remember where to go next. Sidequests can also help in terms of upgrading Nate's Watch Rank. Upgrading Nate's watch requires the player to perform a sidequest wherein he must hunt down specific Yo-Kai. Once each bounty has been slain, the watch can rank up. Ranking up the watch means that Nate can catch more powerful Yo-Kai, while also being able to open special doors throughout the main quest as well. It's important to stay on top of the watch upgrades, as it makes moving through the main story a lot easier.

G-G-G-GHOST!!!!! G-G-G-GHOST!!!!!

   While the game offers new methods to explore the map such as Mirapo the Warp Mirror, the sewer systems, and even a bicycle, it doesn't excuse the stupidity that is the run mechanic in this game. Nate can only run fast for short bursts, and then he gets pooped. This is only helpful for Terror Time, an event that sometimes occurs with large Yo-Kai chasing Nate around. These events are few, however, making this mechanic rather pointless.

   While Terror Time isn't a normal occurrence, certain events can only be done either during the day or at night. This plays into how certain Yo-Kai can be captured as well, as different ones appear during the time of day. There's a large plethora of adorably pun-filled named Yo-Kai to capture, though the system Level-5 chose to implement for Yo-Kai recruitment is a hot mess. At the end of combat, the player has a random chance that a Yo-Kai will join the party, and the only way to increase recruitment is by guessing what the demon's favourite food is. This system is haphazard to a fault, and there's no real way to push recruitment in Nate's favour. This makes for an annoying experience especially when there's such a small chance of a Yo-Kai joining the party. Even though the main recruitment system is randomized, players can use fusion as a means to transform their Yo-Kai into more unique beasts, and it's much better overall. Another means of gaining more Yo-Kai companions is by putting coins in the capsule machine, which will randomly give the player a decent ranked Yo-Kai friend or a useful item.

   The combat system is unique to say the least, as it allows Nate to carry up to six Yo-Kai at a time, and they can be switched seamlessly throughout battle by turning the radial left or right. Each Yo-Kai comes equipped with a Soultimate, a special move that can only be engaged when the Soultimate meter has been filled through random attacking or by being damaged. Once the meter is activated, the player must perform a short minigame to complete the move, be it tapping floating bubbles, tracing specific patterns or spinning the stylus in a circle. It's intuitive, though somewhat crippling to those who may not be as quick to perform the minigames. The player can also pin an enemy to exploit a weak area, which is quite handy as the party takes actions on its own while the player mediates between using items, filling the Soultimate gauge, or purifying Yo-Kai who have been inspirited. Much like Soultimate, purification requires the player to move inspirited Yo-Kai to the bottom of the screen and force them to play a minigame until the Yo-Kai is cleansed. This system works well for the most part, though gets frustrating later on during certain boss battles.

Everybody to the limit. Everybody to the limit.

   Boss battles are actually the only challenge presented in Yo-Kai Watch, as the game is very easy. Boss battles are often trickier as they require players to place a targeting pin on specific body parts on the enemy or perform purifications faster than is humanly possible. Being fast with the stylus is key to success in Yo-Kai Watch, even if it causes hand cramps. Enjoying the battle system comes down to how much a person enjoys, tolerates, or hates stylus-based combat and minigames. However, the patterns in the minigames do get repetitive and stale, and there's not enough of them to change it up.

   One thing Yo-Kai Watch does well, and seems to be a staple in the majority of Level-5 games, is that it has fantastic art direction and visual appeal. The majority of the Yo-Kai that Nate will encounter are as colourful as they are quirky. There's a lot of world to explore, and the developers have really gone out of their way to make it come to life while also keeping the Saturday morning cartoon vibe. Even in battles there is an impressive amount of detail in both the Yo-Kai and the villains. While it is no Ni No Kuni in terms of stunning visuals, Yo-Kai Watch still does an amazing job of luring the player into its world from a visual standpoint. Sound-wise, Yo-Kai Watch is decent. There's a handful of tracks that fit the cartoony-ness of the game, from the haunted hospital music to the upbeat battle theme. There's a lot of forgettable tracks as well, but that is to be expected from a game that's more focused on atmospheric noise than music. The voice acting is quite good, though it's a shame there's not a lot of it.

   Yo-Kai Watch's main story can easily be completed in under twenty hours, though there's quite the meaty postgame for those who are enamored with the gameplay. I admit, I enjoyed my time with Yo-Kai Watch. It felt like a very middle-of-the-road monster catching game, which is a real shame given that these cute creatures could have given some of the Pokémon a run for their money. Perhaps it isn't fair to compare this game with the monster catching giant, as it's a lot more akin to Shin Megami Tensei in terms of mechanics. It's sad that the main aspect of monster catching in Yo-Kai Watch isn't as strong as it could be, but the story and localisation work is truly spectacular and that does make up for some of the more annoying aspects. While I'd be willing to play a sequel should another release come over the pond, here's hoping the sequels address many of this first game's flaws and turn them into positives.

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