Pokemon With Ghosts? What Exactly is Yo-Kai Watch?

Big in Japan.

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Nintendo has announced that Yo-Kai Watch, an RPG developed by Level-5, will finally be making its way to U.S. shores in 2016.

But what is it exactly? Yo-Kai Watch is a monster collecting RPG that has become an immensely popular game series in Japan. To put it simply, it is Pokemon, but with ghost-like creatures called Yo-Kai.

Yo-Kai Watch puts you in control of either a young boy or girl living in a small town, who is given a special watch that allows you to find, collect, summon, and battle Yo-Kai. You then fight and befriend Yo-Kai in order to help town citizens who are being haunted by mischievous and evil Yo-Kai.

Nintendo’s announcement of Yo-Kai Watch’s upcoming localization finally marks the series’ debut in the U.S. Initially released in Japan back in 2013, Yo-Kai Watch has since become a critically acclaimed series spanning a number of games.

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Yo-Kai Watch's sequel, Yo-Kai Watch 2: Gonzo & Honke, was released in 2014 as two respective editions. Recently, a third entry that takes place in the U.S. has been announced to be in development, while a four-player cooperative spin-off game called Yo-Kai Busters is scheduled to release on July 11 in Japan.

The Yo-Kai Watch series is widely considered a new cultural phenomenon in Japan, having sold over 7 million units just from its first two entries, and generating more than $1 billion in retail sales from toys and merchandise alone. The series has even spawned two manga adaptations and an anime series. According to an announcement made by Level-5 president Akihiro Hino, the latter is actually scheduled to broadcast internationally sometime this year.

But will Yo-Kai Watch be as popular in the U.S as it is in Japan? It’s difficult to say. Developer Level-5 has a solid track record with RPGs like Ni No Kuni and Dragon Quest IX, so the game’s quality isn’t so much in question. Rather, it’s more a matter of if the game will be able to capture the imaginations of children who might have trouble identifying with its world.

This issue comes specifically from the way the game embraces the ambivalent attitude that the Japanese have towards the dead. One of the major reasons the Pokemon series has had so much international success in the West is because it does not favor the customs of one territory over the other. So this might prove to be a major hurdle for Yo-Kai Watch in its popularity in the West.

Regardless, Western audiences will just have to see for themselves how Yo-Kai Watch does when it launches in the U.S. for the Nintendo 3DS sometime in 2016.

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