While out collecting bugs, you discover an old Gatchapon machine. You insert a coin and turn the crank and release the Whisper the spirit of a butler who grants you a Yo-kai Watch! Now you can see and collect Youkai all around your city!
The youkai themselves have really nice designs, despite there being plenty of reskins.
The combat system is really unique and creative, it fits really well with the theme of the game.
The world you have to explore is huge! And the game gradually gives you new ways to get around, like a bike or a warp mirror.
Collecting youkai is completely random, and in a game about collecting youkai, that's just inexcusable.
The story is completely nonexistent until the end of the game, filling your time with side stories that have almost no over arching development.
Youkai are spirits in Japanese Lore, and Yo-kai Watch is the hot new (well not so new anymore) thing in Japan right now. Selling toys, making an anime, and of course, making games. Yo-kai Watch is a story about a child who receives a device from a spirit of a butler which enables them to see and collect Youkai. The big comparison that everybody made to Yo-kai watch was Pokemon, in both franchises, you’re collecting little creatures and using them to fight and aid you in every day life. But that’s where the similarities end, because there are some drastic differences that makes Yo-kai Watch a fundamentally flawed game.
That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy my time with Yo-kai Watch, I actually like the idea of using spirits that have cultural inspirations from Japanese lore somewhat more than just generic creatures. Youkai are shown to be the reasons bad or weird things happen in your life, and the game demonstrates this pretty well. For example, early on in the game your parents are fighting, a very relatable situation, but it turns out that they’re fighting because a youkai has possessed them. Yo-kai Watch has you use the power of youkai frequently in order to solve people’s problems, mostly during side quests. Another example was when a pop idol needed to hide from her crazy fans, so I a ninja youkai to turn her invisible. It was actually really creative compared to say, Pokemon where it’s limited to surfing, flying, pushing, etc. Then again, it’s not like there were a few youkai I could have chosen from, the side quest had me get that specific youkai.
I also really liked the designs of the youkai themselves, there’s a wide variety of different kinds each with their own unique traits. Some are creepy, some are cute, some are tough, some are cool, etc. Yo-kai Watch brags that it has over 200 youkai to collect and fight with but it’s really not that impressive when at least 100 are blatant reskins and recolorings. I actually went through all the youkai you could collect, marking how many are original designs and how many are just reskins. I counted roughly 100 of the 220 are just reskins, and that’s being generous towards the original designs side.
It’s actually really disappointing to see that 46% of these creature’s you’re tasked with collecting are just lazily done recolorings. Not that it matters, considering the capture system is the worst part of the game. While people compare it to Pokemon, it’s actually more similar to the Shin Megami Tensei games, and how you negotiate with demons in order for them to join you or to get stuff from them. It’s no where near as in depth as that of course. Whatever you do to try and collect a youkai, it feels completely arbitrary. You could do everything perfectly to collect a specific one, only to have another one that you completely ignored join you. This is particularly annoying, when a side quest makes you bring a specific youkai with you, which you can’t get because the capture system is just “keep trying till it happens”.
Here’s the thing though, the developers KNEW it was hard. Because throughout the game, they’ll just GIVE you youkai, and an astonishing amount. By the end of the game I had less than 50 youkai (counting to duplicates, fusions and evolutions) and 13 of those were just given to me for story purposes. In fact it was because of this that I wanted to make a point of not using the ones they gave to me and only use ones I came across on my own.
Another oddity that can’t go without mentioning is the combat system. It’s not bad, not at all, it’s actually rather unique. You take 6 youkai with you into combat, and you spin a rotation wheel of which 3 are up front at any given time. Having youkai of the same clan type gives them a bonus, and there’s a fair amount of strategy that goes into who to bring and where to place them. The odd part is that you can’t actually control what your youkai do, you can only give them directions about who to attack or when to use their “Soultimate move”. “Soultimates” can be triggered by performing a little mini game on the touch screen, or if your youkai has been inspirited and can’t use their “soultimate”, you can move them to the back row and do a similar mini game to cure them. I actually kind of like this! The mini games actually felt really natural with what was going on. They aren’t hard by any means, but spinning a spiral to charge power or tapping the screen to break them out of a glass sphere didn’t feel forced and it felt like I was contributing at the same time.
Yo-kai Watch is not light on content, it actually has quite a lot, including side quests, repeatable quests, finding secret areas, etc. Oh and I guess the main campaign as well takes up some time. I almost forgot about it because the story wasn’t even really addressed until I was 20 hours into the game. The pacing of the game in general is atrocious! The game has this very strange limiter on how far you can progress, they cut off areas until you rank up your Yo-kai Watch, which also enables you to see more powerful youkai. This is a good idea in theory, because it lets the players proceed at their own pace, but the game makes you upgrade your watch THREE STORY LEVELS IN A ROW. I started at Rank E, and then I went from D to B within an hour of each other! They took away the agency I could have had as a player to go at my own pace for the sake of their story, it never felt like it was necessary to upgrade at all considering how often I did it.
Back to the issues with the actual story. From the moment you meet the youkai Whisper, your ghost butler, everything feels forced. Whisper actually comes off as really forceful and kind of abusive the way he pushes you into this world of ghosts danger. The main character is clearly not interested at first and the joy they have at the end of the game I can only explain as Stockholm syndrome. Now I said that it took 20 hours for me to actually find the real story, but that’s also counting all the side questing I did. In all honesty the first 9 chapters of this 11 chapter game were just individual stories that only hinted at a grander plot. Chapter 10 actually started the plot and the rest of it was all shoved in your face in chapter 11. Chapters 2-8 are just individual arcs that have no real baring on the story itself.
What resulted was a story that centered around a maguffin character, who was central to the entire plot but was nowhere throughout the entire game until the end. It’s frankly shocking how bad the story is, there’s no pacing, no character depth, or rationale for anything that goes on.
A recurring sentiment that I got from reading other reviews of this game was –
“I wish I enjoyed my time more than I did”
I feel like that perfectly describes Yo-kai Watch. You can tell there’s a lot of love put into this game, it doesn’t feel half-assed, nor does it feel unfinished or rushed. I really did like the combat system and the youkai themselves, not to mention the ideas they brought to the table in terms of real life situations were very bold. But the lack of any coherent story, awful pacing, and just plain bad design for collecting youkai make this game fall flat.
I’m giving this game a grade of a C- because it’s not unplayable by any means, and it’s good enough for a passing grade but I also know the developers at Level-5 can do better. I’ve heard that Yo-kai Watch 2 actually addresses a lot of the problems with the first game, and that’s great! But that doesn’t change the fact that Yo-kai Watch 1 is a mediocre RPG