Review: Yo-Kai Watch

July 2013 saw the start of a new multimedia phenomenon in Japan. Beginning with a solidly performing but fair unassuming 3DS title, it soon saw itself shoot to superstardom with the arrival of a hit anime series and more toys and merchandise than you could shake a stylus at. Almost three years later, that game that started it all finally arrives on European shores (no, seriously, why are you so slow at localisation Level 5!?). With enormous expectations placed upon it as The Pokémon Company's worst nightmare, can it possibly hope to stand up to the might of the world's most fearsome pocket monsters?

The answer may surprise you, because I actually feel that it's not really all that much like the Pokémon series at all!

Fearsome foes await... and some not so fierce as well

Yes you go around hunting for Pokémon Yo-kai to add to your collection, yes you level them up and take them into battle and yes you do play as a boy or girl (Nate and Katie respectively, though naturally you can choose their names) that gets involved in a rote story that relates to players of a younger age, but you know what? I feel that the battles and monster collecting are not really the focus of this game at all, but rather they act to serve a game that aims to deliver a nostalgic 'slice of life' experience. Fans of movies like My Neighbour Totoro, anime like Azumanga Daioh and games like Attack of the Friday Monsters will likely enjoy the light and breezy style that this game exudes.

Triangle Park, uncharacteristically empty... Suspicious...

The town of Springdale is huge, bustling and full of life. It may be the only main location in this game, but that's absolutely fine because it is incredibly well endowed with detail and soul. There are absolutely tons of characters roaming the streets, each with dialogue worth reading and many, MANY quests and requests for you to take on. Level 5's experience in working on Dragon Quest IX clearly rubbed off on them because the quest system is very similar. Characters will frequently have various things go wrong, or will task you to do relatively mundane, but charming things, such as going fishing for a lost ring, or resolving an argument between two long time friends. And naturally, Yo-kai are usually responsible for said deeds.

In case you haven't heard, Yo-kai are everywhere and are responsible for everything in life. Found someone become overly chatty all of a sudden? Yo-kai is why. Suddenly forget where you're going or why you were going somewhere? Yo-kai is why. It's a great concept that, despite being based around Japanese fairy tales and folklores, is surprisingly relatable to just about anyone here in Europe. Naturally, you are often tasked to hunt down and take down the various ghostly monsters that play tricks on the denizens of Springdale and these generally play out in the same way; you take the stylus to hand and scour the screen for the hidden ghostly Yo-kai (and here's where that Professor Layton experience comes in handy) by playing Find The Hidden Object. The Yo-kai then comes into view and you talk to it. You might have to do battle, or you might even have to do a quest for the Yo-kai itself; as it turns out, Hungramps wasn't trying to make people hungry, he was just famished and in need of something to munch on, go get him some food!

It's not terribly in-depth stuff, but it's always very charming and the humourous and pun-ladled dialogue makes each one a pleasure for fans of slice of life nonsense.

There are also some other elements that break up the gameplay nicely, such as a number of stealth sections and a rather terrifying sequence that is fittingly called Terror Time; where you have to escape the area while being hunted down by a Yo-kai most foul. The game feels surprisingly interactive for an RPG, with some nice action elements thrown in for good measure that allow you to navigate the environment in ways that you don’t often see in an RPG. With gameplay features like logs that you have to tip-toe across and not fall off, or ropes that you can climb up, it lends a bit more of a Zelda style feeling to how you navigate the environment, which is nice. The game can also be entirely stylus controlled and that’s the best way to play; hats off to Level 5 for that one!

Taking the Yo-kai for a spin, as Level 5 puts a new spin... ok I'll stop there

Now, what is undoubtedly a source of controversy is the battle system and yes, it isn't as in-depth or complex as I would’ve liked. Like the Ogre Battle series, you take a hands off approach and play moreso as a grand strategist than an active participant. Unlike the Ogre Battle series however, the battles lack that strategic element that makes them engaging. While there are strategic factors to consider, such as your Yo-kai’s element (placing two or three of the same element together activates a stat bonus in battle, a nice touch), there just isn’t enough to elevate them beyond feeling somewhat mundane. I actually quite enjoy the passive approach that Yo-kai Watch takes with its battles and I feel that with more depth being placed into the preparation aspect of the battle system, it could work very well, but as it stands, the battle system isn’t all that engaging. It needs more than just the Soultimate moves (each character has a character specific move that they can use when their soul meter is fully charged; you do this by leaving them to attack enemies until they fill up the meter) and a handful of repetitive microgames that go along with them. I should note that the demo isn’t fully representative of the final product as Yo-kai do not get all their HP or soul meter points back after every encounter like in the demo; it’s still not a very challenging game despite this, but perhaps that’s befitting Yo-kai Watch’s breezy nature. That being said, some of the bosses (yes there are boss battles) might keep your attention a bit more, but it’s a shame that the normal battles couldn’t do the same.

What also might put off some players is how the Yo-kai recruitment system works. Completionists will no doubt be driven to madness by the fact that the befriending of Yo-kai is entirely random. Once you defeat a Yo-kai in battle, it MIGHT join you... but outside of offering it food in battle, there’s no other way to influence this and considering that filling up your Yo-kai Medallium is a large aspect of the game’s appeal, this is a big issue.

20 tries later, finally got it!

Despite this though, I had a good time with this one. The visuals are amongst the best that the 3DS has to offer, the music is lovely and befitting of the breezy nature of the game and the slice of life nature of the game’s world is wonderfully charming. Folks looking for a Pokémon killer won’t find it here, but I think comparing Yo-kai Watch to Pokémon does the former a disservice. It doesn’t have the competitive aspect going for it, like Pokémon does, but that’s ok! 

N-Europe Final Verdict

Yo-Kai Watch isn’t really a Pokémon clone, so much as it is a light and breezy single player focused RPG with monster collecting elements. And though it might not appeal to people looking for an indepth and complex competitive game, fans of Slice of Life stuff will no doubt enjoy the experience of being a normal, everyday school kid in a world where crazy ghosts could be lurking right around every corner.

  • Gameplay3
  • Playability4
  • Visuals5
  • Audio4
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



Literally oozes charm and soul
Beautiful graphics and lovely music
Witty localisation and charming characters
Whisper is a great sidekick


Battle system is mundane and lacks depth
A completionist's worst nightmare
Process of finding and catching Yo-Kai can become repetitive
Quests can be a bit repetitive, even if they are charming

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