At first glance, Yo-Kai Watch bears some striking similarities to Pokemon. Both games take place in vibrant worlds loosely based on our own, where you capture "monsters" and use them to fight against others. But despite the commonalities, Yo-Kai Watch doesn't appear like a cheap knock-off, thanks to its distinct premise, battle system, and charm.
Yo-Kai Watch lacks the competitive drive that fuels Pokemon; you aren’t some ambitious young monster trainer embarking on an adventure across a vast region of land, battling other trainers as you strive to be the very best. Rather, you’re an average kid who has been thrown into a story of a town trying to rid itself of ghost-like creatures based on Japanese folklore (known as Yo-Kai). All the while, you're also befriending Yo-Kai and using their skills to assist you.
What I played of the game during a recent preview had me venturing to a secret dungeon, found in the town's forest outskirts, in a quest to find a special item that could improve my Yo-Kai Watch, a device that allows me to see Yo-Kai and summon them into battle. Upon getting to my destination, my first impression of the dungeon was that it had an uninspiring familiarity; its rooms populated by enemies, and its navigation peppered with light puzzle-solving. However, it was here that I got a taste of Yo-Kai Watch's most unique aspect: combat.
As opposed to a traditional turn-based battle system, Yo-Kai Watch's battles takes place in real-time. Your party auto-fights opponents, and as they do, you use their special abilities to aid you in battle. These abilities, called Soultimates, are triggered via interactive touch screen mini-games that are thrown up mid-battle, such as tracing a specific shape or tapping a circular gauge until it fills up. And Soultimates take various forms: for instance, one Yo-Kai in my party threw a flurry of punches, while another cast a healing spell.
You bring a total of six Yo-Kai into battle, but only three are capable of being on the field at a time. By rotating a wheel on the touch screen, you can instantly shift the lineup in real-time. But the catch is that each are tied specifically to where they're placed on the wheel, which means you need to be mindful of how you organize your Yo-Kai. You may bring the right ones into battle, but if they aren't placed next to others that complement their strengths, then you'll be at a huge disadvantage.
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When these battle mechanics are strung together, the action feels hectic, but at the same time, exciting and engaging. There's a degree of strategy and finesse required in Yo-Kai Watch that makes it feel more fulfilling than you'd expect.
Completing the dungeon rewarded me with the item I needed as well as the addition of the area's boss into my party. I then returned to an old watchmaker to upgrade my watch, but without his "lucky pair of underwear," he couldn't help me out. It was then left up to me accomplish this bizarre task by going to a local bathhouse at night to obtain them.
Don't ask me to explain the reasoning behind this, but the zaniness actually fits in with the game's colorful world and added to the sense of humor and fun of it all.
Being a child, the task was restricted by a parental curfew. Thankfully, my newest Yo-Kai could transform into my body double, giving me the ability to sneak out of my house to freely explore the town at night. But running around at night in Yo-Kai Watch holds consequences; in this case, a randomized event called Terror Time. This threw me into a stealth scenario where I had to avoid a powerful Yo-Kai known as the Red Oni and make it to a glowing yellow door across the map. And he wasn't alone; the Oni was accompanied by an entourage of tiny minions scattered throughout the area. Unfortunately, one spotted me, alerting the Red Oni to my location. What followed was a desperate dash for the exit.
With moments like these, there's a genuine sense of charm in Yo-Kai Watch's world and monsters. As I played, I couldn't stop smiling at the humor and personality of its different scenarios. Unfortunately, before I could dive any deeper, my time with the game was cut short just as I met a mysterious girl in a scarf.
Yo-Kai Watch offers a markedly different experience from other monster-collecting RPGs. Through its distinct premise, combat, and world, it stands out in a way all of its own. While what I played was only a tiny slice of the game, I can't wait to see what else it has to offer when it comes out on November 6 for the 3DS.