Growing up in modern times usually meant being fond of at least a cartoon/anime or two. From the ever popular Pokémon that continues to captivate new generations to Yu-Gi-Oh and the ever changing Digimon. There is no denying that cartoons and anime have a lot of potential in terms of expanding to other media, such as video-games, and vice-versa as already seen in the countless releases of Pokémon and even the recently widely acclaimed Digimon Story: Cyber Sleuth.
Now that the popular Yo-kai anime is finally being aired from the 23rd April 2016 in the UK, Nintendo and Level-5 have also localised the first game YO-KAI WATCH! – almost 3 years after its original Japanese release. Will this delay make it any less relevant or can it become a successful part of getting an Internet savvy younger audience and perhaps even an older generation hooked on Yo-kai?
The whole premise behind Yo-kai and the game is simple enough as it usually is with most successful cartoon/anime stories. There are beings called Yo-kai who roam the town of Springdale. Although these characters are usually invisible to humans, they can still influence them or even directly interact with them in various manners. The game allows the player to choose between a boy or girl characters and enter a name or use 1 of the official names, Nate for the boy or Katie for the girl.
After meeting the game’s guide, Whisper, the character is given a Yo-kai Watch that makes it possible to interact with Yo-kai and befriend them. Befriending a Yo-kai means being able to use it in battle and this tends to happen after helping the being or defeating it in battle. The watch has some other uses such as being able to detect nearby Yo-kai and… telling what time it is.
If this all sound simple so far, then that is because there isn’t much to it. As already mentioned, there are Yo-kai battles that take place in real time. In these, the character can use up to six Yo-kai, with three of them in reserve. It’s easy to switch between them by making use of a spin wheel. The real twist here is that Yo-kai are autonomous and don’t usually take orders from the characters. In battle, the player is allowed to activate the Soultimate special ability each Yo-kai possesses. It’s even necessary to complete a brief mini-game, like tracing on-screen shapes on touch screen, to successfully activate the special ability. Although it’s amusing at first, the novelty of doing this every time does start to wear off after a couple of fights – more so given that there are only three mini-games. Another interaction consists of removing status ailments from Yo-kai, by placing them in the reserve area and completing one of the mini-games.
As the beings wage battle with enemy Yo-kai, it is also possible to get them to focus on certain areas of enemies or even one enemy. This is more useful during some of the later boss encounters where it is necessary to attack certain areas of the being to make a weak point appear. It’s this mechanic that makes the whole battling system feel a little less repetitive. It’s odd how detached battles can feel otherwise, given that there is no way to directly influence the flow of battle most of the time. It can almost feel like the character is just there to cheer and occasionally get the beings to pull off a special move. It’s even frustrating to see Yo-kai using attacks at the wrong times and try not feel like being given more direct influence over their decisions might have helped.
As usual, there are all sorts of items players can give the Yo-kai both during battle and on the field to heal them and make them better characters. It’s even possible to evolve Yo-kai to new forms by levelling them up or fusing the beings to create new forms. Whereas the combat feels oversimplified, it’s definitely not the same case with the beings. There are over 200 Yo-kai to collect and that will most likely become a high point for the title. What is most surprising is the level of detail given to each of the beings. Each one of them comes with individual traits that makes them feel unique, from the way they talk to how they interact with others. It really makes for a better experience when witnessing how these beings interact with humans. There are Yo-kai that thrive on seeing humans deal with emotions such as anger and others who are so passionate about what they believe in that they are willing to nearly burn down buildings. It’s refreshing to see that at least the Yo-kai have a reason for roaming around the streets of Springdale.
The story itself is interesting and is separated in chapters like anime/cartoon episodes. In fact, most of the chapters deal with self-contained problems, such as helping friends in need, that never really have any impact on the overall story arch. Oddly enough, most of the chapters feel somewhat brief which in a way fits in with the anime/cartoon episodic format. By about halfway through the story, it’s clear that YO-KAI WATCH isn’t overly concerned with any major story developments. Instead it feels like it wishes to imprint lessons of common courtesy to its target younger audience. Lessons such as only crossing the road when the green man appears (Yes – this is an actual game mechanic) and the power of friendship. Which seems perfectly fine given the modern age we live in where trolling and swearing is often the instant reaction instead of good old fashioned human decency. There are also many side-quests to tackle and they mostly involve requests from characters to find items that they need. The game is certainly not lacking for content for those not just interested in completing the main story.
New game mechanics are introduced with progression – even if they don’t always have the desired positive effect. At various points in the game Terror Time makes an appearance where the character must escape a nightmarish reality from a giant monster called Oni. It only chases the characters if he or she is spotted by smaller enemies, but it’s tricky to avoid those, since they appear in large numbers.
It’s possible to upgrade the watch to go up a rank in order to gain access to new areas and make stronger Yo-kai appear. Ranking up requires defeating certain monsters and it’s mandatory to do so to complete the story. It doesn’t help that some objectives for missions such as this are often difficult to find since they rely on the player having a good knowledge of the map and location names.
There are other baffling design ideas like only being able to swap Yo-kai characters at certain Eypo glowing points. The fact that certain missions only take place during night/day and it seems like the only place to change the day/night cycle is by going to the character’s home. Some of these minor issues are resolved later in the game when features like a bike or teleportation mirrors are obtained.
The game also makes good use of the hardware it’s on to offer local battles between players and the ability to gain items by taking photos of people with Yo-kai. It also shares Yo-kai information via StreetPass if the player has any custom named Yo-kai.
Visually, the game is easily one of the best looking on the Nintendo 3DS system and bears a striking resemblance to the Dragon Quest series. Its varied cast of colourful characters is a major advantage and makes it much easier to get into the world of Yo-kai. In fact, it’s a pleasure to explore the town and interact with the characters.
At times, it feels like there is a brilliant game that wants to breakout and it’s mostly down to the characters and the quirky and relevant jokes cleverly added to the dialogue – Banter Bakery seems like an amazing place. Yet it’s often let-down by its limited imagination in regards to other key areas, such as combat and even basic game mechanics that only serve to slow down progress. It will work brilliantly as a showcase for the anime (even though the games came first) and the various Yo-Kai characters, but just don’t expect it to have the same depth as other similar games already out.