Spend five minutes with Yo-Kai Watch on the Nintendo 3DS and you’ll quickly discover why so many people are comparing it to the beloved and long-running franchise, Pokemon. Dedicate a few hours to the game, though, and you’ll find that it not only sets itself apart from the monster-catching series it so clearly draws inspiration from but, in some regards, it surpasses it.
Before you Mega Evolve and go berserk in the comments, understand that we’re not saying “Yo-Kai Watch is a better game than Pokemon.” That’s for each player to decide on their own and you’ll have our take on the new contender for the crown later this week in the form of a Yo-Kai Watch review.
It’s hard to argue that Pokemon’s many systems couldn’t do with a little evolving of their own, however, and that’s something that the team at Level-5 have managed to pull off quite nicely in Yo-Kai Watch. Here’s our list of the five things Yo-Kai Watch does better than Pokemon.
Pokemon has been around for a couple of decades but, despite all of those entries in the series, the plot has never been a major driving force carrying players from Point A to Point B. Usually there’s an evil organization who wants to use Pokemon to pull off their devious plans and you are the only youngster plucky enough to stop them dead in their tracks.
Yo-Kai Watch, on the other hand, is all about bite-sized stories that come together to tell a tale that would feel right at home as a Saturday morning cartoon (which exists). The main arcs of the story are even broken into distinct segments, with a story sequence setting the stage for the specific problem the player is going to need to help folks solve. Instead of melodrama about saving the world, Yo-Kai Watch tells the story of a kid who discovers a unique ability to see spirits and then utilizes that ability to help those in need. Even the side missions have a stronger focus on narrative than you see in most Pokemon games, complete with lots of dialogue, unique motivations and recurring characters that make it feel like you’re actually having an impact on individuals’ lives rather than generic NPCs.
Characters with character
As mentioned above, one of the coolest things about Yo-Kai Watch is that the characters are exactly that. While there are loads (and loads) of NPCs wandering around, they all look different and have their own lines of dialogue that help flesh out the world of Yo-Kai Watch. The best folks are those you run into on a regular basis. A classmate you helped with a Yo-Kai problem earlier in the game might pop up later at a book store. Talk to them and you'll learn even more about what makes them tick, making the main cast of characters more believable than your typical RPG.
This goes double for the Yo-Kai themselves. While they don't all have big speaking parts, they at least know how to say more than just their own name on repeat. The Yo-Kai that get extended scenes of dialogue become more and more likable as you discover why they've decided to interfere in the human world. They also play a key part in many of the story beats, stepping in to help Nate and Kate (the boy and girl protagonists, respectively) on a regular basis. Like the rest of the story, the Yo-kai are well written and often funny to boot, making for an entertaining read rather than snatches of dialogue you're eager to rush through.
A varied, living world
Believable characters need a believable world, and Yo-Kai Watch offers that in spades. The town of Springdale is broken into several distinct regions, including areas like the suburbs, an older neighborhood that's clearly had a city sprout up around it, a tangle of mountain paths and the business district. The buildings are so varied and well detailed that it becomes easy to navigate the complex streets by sight alone.
On top of the main map, you're able to enter lots of buildings that offer their own nooks and crannies to explore. The school is so painstakingly detailed that I feel it has to be based on an actual building, as every type of classroom is present and accounted for, including multiple rooms for each grade level. It's a level of design that doesn't end up in most full-fledged console epics, and it helps to breathe life into an utterly charming setting.
Lots of variety
No matter how much fun the story or combat is in an RPG, you're going to need some side activities to help flesh out the experience. Thankfully, Yo-Kai Watch offers plenty of reasons to forget about progressing the narrative for a few hours here and there.
Many systems within the game operate like a round of hide and seek. Sometimes you'll need to use your watch to locate the titular spirits while the same mechanic can be utilized to trigger bug hunts and fishing mini-games. Searching under cars, beneath porches and even in the trash can yield helpful items, as can taking on the loads of side-quests available from NPCs. In other words, you'll be rewarded for constant exploration.
If you don't feel like battling, those side missions are a great way to level up your team of Yo-Kai through running errands instead of fisticuffs. Several segments of gameplay toss clever mechanics into the mix, and an occasional trek into Terror Time will have you dodging dangerous oni in order to loot valuable treasure and find an exit before being caught.
Befriending Yo-Kai is important, but sometimes taking a moment to fulfill a side objective will grant great rewards and even open up whole new activities within the game. You could focus on just collecting critters, but Yo-Kai Watch offers plenty of great opportunities to do other things, too.
Likely to be the most controversial item on this list, there are a lot of things that I prefer in Yo-Kai Watch's combat over Pokemon. For starters, combat isn't random, so you won't find yourself getting needlessly sucked into easy battles just because you traveled a few feet into the tall grass. You also see the Yo-Kai on-screen before you ever enter battle with them, giving you the option to just walk away if you have no desire to fight a particular spirit.
While the battle system in Pokemon is more complex, the combat in Yo-Kai Watch can be as involved or straightforward as you want. Since the Yo-Kai will perform regular battle moves on their own, you take on a role more akin to an actual trainer than Pokemon offers. You'll need to choose your lineup wisely, pick abilities that complement each other well and use special items to make the most out of each of your spirit's greatest strengths.
And while you can certainly just spam your strongest moves to get through easier fights, Yo-Kai Watch rewards you for taking your time, letting abilities trigger and combine, targeting certain enemies and interacting with the scene in various other ways. Even triggering those “soultimate” abilities is done with quick minigames, meaning you're seldom left just staring at the screen or using the same move to beat the same baddies ad nauseum.
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