A worthy contender has finally entered Pokémon’s monster-collecting genre. Yo-Kai Watch has exploded in Japan in the last few years, and American audiences finally get a taste of the action with the first game for Nintendo 3DS.
A likable, relatable story and modern setting combine well with the ghost-hunting and monster-battling formula to create not only one of the most impressive 3DS games I’ve played, but also one of my favorite games of the year.
The story opens up the exact same way as the anime, with Nate (or Katie—you can choose your main character) discovering helpful Yo-kai butler Whisper in the forest. Whisper bestows your protagonist with the Yo-kai watch, allowing you to see and befriend Yo-kai.
Yo-kai are ghostly spirits that come in all shapes and sizes and typically embody various emotional states and problems. Examples include Noway, a sentient wall that is implacable and stubborn; Chansin, a card-dealing ninja that enjoys taking chances; and Signibble, an electric gremlin that causes power outages.
Blaming life’s problems on meddling Yo-kai is a fun concept, and the majority of the plot centers around your hero running around and helping friends, family, and strangers (as well as other Yo-kai) around the city of Springdale.
Structured with main story chapters and dozens of side quests, Yo-Kai Watch is much more free-form and open than the very linear Pokémon games. The map is lovely but a simple annotation system would have gone a long way in helping players find their way around the large city.
Hunting for Yo-kai is fun and intuitive thanks to your trusty radar. A meter determines if you’re near a Yo-kai hiding spot. Turn on your watch and search using the touch screen and stylus. The higher ranking Yo-kai can be quite difficult to find and catch, and rare variants even more so.
Combat is always a big selling point in any RPG. Yo-Kai Watch features a unique real-time system in which three Yo-kai battle at a time. Synergy bonuses for Yo-kai of the same tribe, exploiting elemental weaknesses, and forming a well-balanced party are integral to the overall strategy.
Individual Yo-kai already start with their full abilities. The majority of the strategy comes with deciding which grouping to use, as well as leveling up their various abilities. I loved the variety of Yo-kai both in designs and abilities and constantly found myself updating and changing my roster.
An important, and occasionally frustrating feature is that Yo-kai actually attack on their own—you don’t control them directly. Combat is very touchscreen-heavy as you unleash “soultimate” moves and purify your Yo-kai by tracing lines or popping bubbles—a mechanic that’s not unlike many popular iPhone games. Between performing these mini-game tasks and rotating your six Yo-kai around in the middle of a fight, there’s always plenty to do during the fast-paced combat encounters.
Yo-Kai Watch is rated E10+ with Comic Mischief and Mild Fantasy Violence. The designs and themes reflect a fun cartoon aesthetic. I particularly enjoyed that you spend the majority of quests helping other people.
While Pokémon has its roots in the older, 8-bit original Game Boy, Yo-Kai Watch takes full advantage of the 3DS’s capabilities and newer technology. It’s easily the best looking 3DS game I’ve played yet.
The touchscreen is incredibly well-utilized between all the mini-games, abilities, and Yo-kai hunting. Yo-kai Watch’s story isn’t particularly memorable, but the modern urban setting is a refreshing change from the usual JRPG locales. While it would be premature to declare Yo-Kai Watch the new king of monster-collecting RPGs, it is certainly an exciting successor.