While on vacation I’ve been spending some downtime playing Yokai Watch, the new RPG for the Nintendo 3DS from Level-5. While it’s been a huge hit in Japan, this is only the first release in the US. So far, I can see why: the game has a lot of charm. Not unlike the Pokemon series, you run around collecting monsters that you then use in battle to defeat and befriend other monsters. While the name of the game in Pokemon is tracking them all down and becoming the best, in Yokai Watch the focus seems to be on story rather than the Yokai themselves. The visuals and humor are fantastic and pleasing to see and hear, but the real kicker that’s been keeping me coming back into the world is the battle system.
Unlike most RPGs, you don’t directly control your Yokai in battle. Instead of barking orders at them and watching the outcome, each Yokai acts on its own. This is kind of relieving because most battles are 3 on 3 affairs, meaning you’d have a lot of micromanaging your moves to defeat enemies. I’m a traditional turn based RPG fan, but even I find it dull when you have to dish out commands to your team just to defeat the simple, easy to kill enemies. In this sense Yokai Watch is kind of great. But for those who love to hand pick every strategy like you might in a Persona game might not like the lack of freedom.
Lack of freedom isn’t entire true, because even though the game is hands off with the combat, you can still greatly affect the battle. The titular Yokai Watch let’s you store 6 Yokai on your team at once, but you only use three in battle. Instead of having the other three sit out for the fight, they can be rotated in by spinning the watch and bringing them into battle instead. You’ll be doing a lot of rotating because each Yokai is kind of weak on it’s own. It’s fun spinning your watch, bringing in new Yokai, and watching them pummel your foes.
On top of rotating your team, you can also activate each Yokai’s “Soultimate” attack if they have a full spirit meter. Doing so moves you into a small minigame like tapping floating targets or tracing an outline in order to successfully activate the ability. These special powers can make or break a battle, and each Yokai’s is different. Jibanyan, for example, uses “Paws of Fury” which unleashes a flurry of swipes at each enemy on screen, doing a lot of damage all at once. After the Soultimate is expended it has to be recharged, meaning you need to be wise in your execution.
Because you’ll be doing so much on the bottom screen swapping Yokai, activating abilities, giving health items, and maybe even trying to recover a fallen ally, it’s good the action happens all on its own on the upper screen. At first I was taken aback by this lack of interaction, but the more and more I played the more the combat opened up and gave me options to get involved. Now I’m trying to find the best combination of Yokai teams, since having Yokai with matching “Tribes” next to one another gives them more power and having a variety of Tribes on your team can help defeat the more challenging enemies. I’m only a few hours in at this point, so there could be more to come down the road, but so far I’m really enjoying the frantic, fast paced, and totally random combat!
Outside of the combat the story has been bare bones. You play as a young boy or girl who just so happens to stumble upon a strange tree that houses a friendly ghost Yokai. After the chance encounter you discover Yokai are all around us, some causing mischief and mayhem, others simply trying to make the best of their situation. One thing leads to another and you’ve got to stop the Yokai world from disruption the existence of the Human world! Like I said, it’s standard stuff so far, but I’m hoping the story will pick up later. There’s potential here to make it something more than a Pokemon ripoff about cute little monsters that you can collect. Give me danger, give me characters I care about, and most of all give me the type of storytelling I know Level-5 is capable of (They did make the Professor Layton series, afterall!).
I brought a handful of new games with me on this trip, thinking I’d try out a few and stick with the one I like, but having started with Yokai Watch I don’t know if I’ll be getting to Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon or Tri Force Heroes anytime soon. If Yokai Watch keeps doing super cute things like having my character take of his shoes when going inside his home, or putting on a rain coat while the weather’s bad outside, or even getting bonuses for waiting for and using the crosswalk then I’ll be more than happy to put those games on the sidelines!