Yo-Kai Watch is a JRPG from Level 5 (Dark Cloud, Rogue Galaxy, Ni No Kuni) that places players into a world unseen by normal eyes through the use of a special Watch. Embark on the adventure of either a young boy named Nate or a young lady named Katie dependent upon which is chosen as the protagonist by the player with a Yo-Kai named Whisper who will show them the ropes in some rather crazy adventures.
Before the holidays I had the awesome pleasure to try out the demo that Level 5 provided in order to give players a small look into this ghost filled world. While the provided content was short, it did offer would be players a view into the features that would soon be fully unlocked right before the new year. Loading up said full release there were a few items that were instantly noticeable such as the Demo was using a more simplified approach into this world and there was so much more to see and do in a much more challenging manner.
As with most Role Playing Games, Japanese or otherwise, exploration will be the forefront of the adventure. Starting off with nothing much more than your pair of sneakers which are put on as our protagonist (Male or Female) runs out the front door, which is a neat little touch if nothing else, the streets of this city offer plenty to see and do. With many different locations to visit in the form of districts, not all of these are open from the very beginning and are essentially locked off in the form of an invisible wall clearly detailing that our hero shall not pass. Eventually though, both sneakers and an further on a gifted bicycle will be apt means of transportation during the brightly lit days and the darker nights as one of your Yo-Kai pretends to be you sleeping in your bed as to not get in trouble with your parents. That ghost has the right idea!
The city itself is viewed in a third person isometric view that allows to be rotated either left or right to gain a peek of what could be around a particular corner. Really wanting to know what’s over there however will require moving behind the objects and hoping for an indicator to popup that would allow the opening on a treasure box. Having locked in the view allows for these various treasures to only be found if the player is willing to walk where they essentially cannot see and truly explore every nook and cranny throughout the city. With all of the walking around to explore both areas in the open and those hidden the pace of movement is something that can take just a bit of getting used to. The walking pace can be a bit slow at times which is where running comes into place however running like in real life can only be done in bursts as there is a stamina meter associated with this action. Once stamina runs out things come to a crawl until the gauge refills itself before allowing once again for normal movement.
With how large the city is even in just its starting location the idea of being restricted to the stamina meter can start to be a tad tiresome after the first couple chapters. Thankfully by this point the option to take out a slick set of wheels comes into play allowing for just about the same speed as running with no regards to stamina usage. Thought was put into this feature for several reasons with the main being that as the areas become larger, moving around needs to be easier. The other reason for this statement is how smoothly the transitions occur from foot to bike and from bike to foot. Mapped on both the touch screen and the d-pad is an easy option to embark upon your loyal metal steed but it is in the moments that biking on certain terrain or even stairs which would be dangerous (don’t try this outside your home) our hero simply disembarks and continues to move forward. To hop back on simply re-hit the toggle and away they go. Not hitting invisible walls and instead smoothly transitioning was an incredible implementation as there are a lot of instances that the shortcuts are not accessible by a bike and if anything the normal expectation would be to hit a said invisible wall, get off, go down the path, and then get back on to continue. It’s in these small touches that made exploration because there is a lot of it to see and do between both main and side quests.
Side Quests and Favors at times are literally standing around every corner and are very much worth doing for their rewards even if they seem pointless at times. Each of these are indicated upon the touchscreen map as blue and orange flags respectively. Essentially being close enough to the same thing, it was a nice distinction of the two as it allows for a quick and easy visual note to the possible complexity of the issue that is about to either burden you or simply make you richer in terms of pocket change and experience points.
Side Quests are exactly as they sound. Go over to Point A and collect Xth amount of this. Head over to Point B and defeat Xth amount of that. Requests however are generally a little easier to pull off depending upon the materials required as they fall more into the style of “Can I have Xth amount of A? Xth amount of B? Why the hell not, Xth amount of C?”. Sometimes if these are on hand it can be rather simple or it’s nothing that a quick trip to the corner store cannot fix. Other times it requires some exploration of their own as well as some wilderness expositions to go either bug hunting or fishing. Who doesn’t love some good relaxing fishing trips now and then? Completion of either of these yields their own interesting player rewards on top of the already allocated party rewards. For every completed endeavor there is a short animated cutscene that ends one of two ways. The first yielding “Bingo!” grants an extra reward on top of what was already given. The opposite while giving nothing is still entertaining to watch which is its own reward.
With everywhere to look and explore there will be plenty of chances to use the Watch that is designed for finding the Yo-Kai hidden throughout the world at least to those plain of sight. When these places of interest are near there is a needle gauge that will steadily increase the closer that our protagonist moves over to it. Once close enough there are generally one of two things that occur. The first is that the object which may be a tree, dumpster, vending machine, or even a car that can be inspected in order to “look into”. From this point with either the circle pad or the touchscreen itself it's easy to move the cursor around until a highlight appears to the hidden ghost. One located the cursor must stay on in order to fully reveal it in order to do battle. The second style is that our protagonist simply needs to find the Yo-Kai on the map without inspection and these normally sit still and offer dialog instead of outright attacking. Some of these offer great advice while others are part of side-quests.
There will come a time in the story in which progress cannot be furthered until the Watch receives an upgrade through a specialist which is essentially the famed moment of truth. Can you, the protagonist, truly fulfill your duty? Sent on a multi-part quest, this new upgrade while not having any real game changing features does open up new possibilities such as being able to find and fight stronger Yo-Kai as well as being able to make it through locked doors that have the Watch Rank required written upon them. When moving around the map and a Yo-Kai comes within range the needle will not only dictate the proximity but also the rank of the enemy at hand. Once the first upgrade has been obtained however, the rest are up to the player. Can’t progress further? Go back and pick up a new side quest to further upgrade the Watch as that is the only way to keep going. It was interesting that something so important becomes a side-quest but then again it should have been obvious that if you wanted another upgrade you had to go and request it yourself as the shopkeep did tell you to come back.
Equipped with the Watch and Yo-Kai at your side, there can be as little or as much combat as you the player needs there to be. Want to grind? Want to coast through the story and not overly worry about it? THe first of the two methods will make things easier while the second could make things a bit hard after a little while as some leveling will need to be done. Weak Yo-Kai are just that. Weak. Needless to say that it doesn’t end well.
Combat compared to the Demo was actually a bit more interesting as the demo provided not only a full team, but also a leveled up one making things easy and didn’t take into account things like “not wanting to”. Battling is more than taking your eventual party of six into battle for either leveling or boss fighting purposes. Battling is a constant exercise in paying attention to the field of battle for both your units and those of your enemy. Yo-Kai regardless of their levels will fight as they see fit which can include not fighting and simply sitting down for a nap because “they feel like it”. Attitudes can be changed with acquirable tomes which allow changing your ghostly companions’ comport in battle.
With a total of six Yo-Kai that can be brought into battle only three may be on the field at the same time. Set up on a wheel, it is important to make sure who is standing beside who as bonuses can be granted dependent upon which category of ghostly beings one of your party belongs to. These bonuses are only active and in effect among Yo-Kai of the same type and on the front line at the same time. If the wheel is turned and one of the required Yo-Kai for a bonus is moved to the back then the bonus is either reduced if there were three matching or removed entirely. Setting up a good team is as equally as important as leveling, training, and equipping them.
With your forces essentially set onto auto-pilot there are still more than enough elements to worry about to the point at times where it may be a bit too much which is where prioritization comes into play. While Yo-Kai fight and use abilities on auto-pilot, items usage, special abilities, and removal of negative energies are the responsibilities of the player. Items are easy enough to use and have a cooldown that takes place until the next one can be used. Special abilities and the removal of negative energy however are a bit more interactive using the touchscreen in order to perform gestures or actions. Spinning the screen, rubbing off dark mist, tapping at the orbs floating by, and tracing lines on the screen will all come up randomly as the system decides. While doing these however an eye should be kept on the party more so when dealing with more powerful foes or bosses themselves as the wheel cannot be moved nor items used while one of these actions is in play. They can be cancelled if need be, but even that takes a few seconds to perform.
After starting off the introductory sequence and acquiring you first Yo-Kai, the rest will be required to obtain essentially by force (not unlike Pokemon) or by some negotiations / story additions. With a good variety of different ghosts and ghost types there are more than enough of these running around. Yo-Kai themselves on top of type are also split by rank meaning that some will not appear until the Watch has been upgraded. Because it’s the most apt comparison, like Pokemon the acquisition of a Yo-Kai is not a sure shot. Sometimes they will join because they feel like it. Other times no matter how much food is given, which interestingly not every food works for every Yo-Kai, they will simply not even bother to join your ranks which can be frustrating after ten, twenty, thirty attempts because you “really” wanted “that” one.
With everything already in place between the ghosts and the exploration, there’s still more to worry about. As if dealing with a world of ghosts itself was not enough, Oni which are Japanese Demons, can attack at night in a form of event called Terror Time. The objective? To run as fast as possible away from this menace or be sent back home to bed. People are generally not awake for this but somehow the Watch protects against this which may not have been all the best when you think about it? Now while the goal is to run away, there are treasures that can be picked up and are more than worth the risk to do so. If caught however, all of that effort becomes useless as all treasure becomes lost to the Oni that chased you down.
With running away from the Oni and chasing after the Yo-Kai there are one special breed left to tackle. Criminal Yo-Kai are specifically wanted by a particular party and follow some rather interesting rules which require the community at large (So for example GameFaqs) in order to acquire a bonus. Limited by actual real world days, Bounties need to be chased down a total of three times in order to reveal a portion of a password. To make things harder than they already are since it is only a portion of a password, Criminals can only be caught once a real-world day if you even manage to see them. While the rewards aren’t bad at all, the execution of this sub-system may not be the greatest as it requires a community effort for a single player game.
Yo-Kai Watch is a great JRPG entry onto Nintendo’s 3DS that is both very well constructed and makes proper use of both screens in order to enhance the experience. With plenty of Ghosts to do battle with and against, the exploration of this town plays host to many different adventures both big and small which are only the start as the second and third chapters are still yet to come.
Article by Pierre-Yves