Yo-Kai Watch is a Japanese RPG in which the player searches around town for mischievous creatures.
Platform: Nintendo 3DS
Release Date: Nov. 6, 2015
I bought Yo-Kai Watch the day it was officially released in North America, and immediately encountered some issues.
While GameStop had posters and a little section promoting the game, not many people had heard about it. This would continue throughout the weekend: I happened to be at a animation convention, it was right after Halloween, and yet people either did not know what Yo-Kai Watch was at all, or if they had heard of the game, they didn’t know it was being released in North America.
This became a pattern to those I had talked to, and while playing the game, I began to see why.
Yo-Kai Watch is about yokai (stylized “Yo-kai” in game): otherworldly creatures just beyond human vision that cause mischief between people. Yokai were not created for this game-there has been centuries of rich yokai lore in Japan, and plenty of reinventions along the way.
In Yo-Kai Watch, it is the titular Yo-Kai Watch that enables you to start seeing these creatures all over town. And these creatures aren’t always evil or really scary; one of the first ones you meet, named Tattletell in the official release, looks like an old gossiping grandmother. Most of the issues you solve in game deal with everyday sorts of problems–yes, you can explore old haunted houses, and make sure no one interferes with a set of mysterious seals, but the game seems to take particular joy in having you the player see just how Yo-kai and humans interact (or not) on a daily basis.
But therein lies some of the problem Yo-Kai Watch has. The game series is extremely popular in Japan, and other games that include seeing and capturing monsters to fight for you have been received well in Japan (Pokemon comes to mind immediately, as does Shin Megami Tensei / Persona games). But the localization of Yo-Kai Watch seems to try to preserve “yokai” as being distinctly Japanese, while at the same time trying to make the town seem like a normal American suburb.
Basically: while yokai are in Japanese lore and have been reinvented time and time again thanks to figures like Toriyama Sekien and Mizuki Shigeru, the localization of Yo-Kai Watch seems to want the best of both worlds-the rich storytelling background of yokai lore in Japan, and the reach of an English-language release. The people I talked to that did know of Yo-Kai Watch seemed astounded it ever got an English-language release in the first place, saying it felt too reliant on Japanese lore.
I cannot fault Level 5 or the localization team for this, really. Localization is difficult, and many decisions go into every point in this game. The localization does excel in its English names for many of the in-game Yo-kai, and does its best in trying to reach out to American audiences.
Is the game fun? Yes, although people already familiar with or learning about Japanese culture will probably get more out of it.
Is there replay value? Yes. Yo-Kai Watch does an amazing job incorporating cooperative play and alternate reality type viewings into the game–there’s a mode called Yo-Kai Cam where you can use the 3DS camera to take pictures of your friends and see what yo-kai haunt them, for example. You can play with friends and find wandering yo-kai through StreetPass or local networks.
For all these reasons, Yo-Kai Watch is a fun addition to the 3DS/2DS library, despite its obscurity.
Reviews Across the Web
Polygon, Allegra Frank - 7.5/10
With a combat system that really shines during the slower-paced, strategic boss battles, Level-5 has created a game that’s successful in its own right, and not just as an advertisement for a broader product line.
EGMNow, Emma Schaefer - 7.5/10
My two complaints with Yo-Kai Watch, the map system and the randomness element in recruiting Yo-Kai, are both pretty big “quality of life” issues. But despite those flaws, Yo-Kai Watch is a good adventure, filled with interesting character designs, an involving battle system, a world with tons of hidden nooks and crannies to explore, and plenty of content that keeps going long after the main storyline
Gamespot, Alexa Ray Corriea - 7/10
It’s easy to get wrapped up in training your Yo-kai to your specific tastes and tackling tougher demons. The writing is delightful, combat is unique and entertaining, and even though the map leaves much to be desired it’s fun to follow along with the story looking for the paranormal.