Grown tired of wandering through dark caves to find nothing but Zubats? Exhausted of trekking through the long grass to bump into Rattata after Rattata? Then Yo-Kai Watch (also trademarked as Youkai Watch or just Yokai Watch) might just be the game for you.
At first glance, it may just seem like Yokai Watch is Pokémon’s deranged cousin or some bizarre ROM hack found in the corner of a dingy second-hand store. However after a short journey around its environment, you’ll soon realise Yokai Watch has got heaps more to offer.
What Is Yokai Watch?
Much like Pokémon, Yokai Watch has an impressive amount to present to its players – from its stunning visuals, to it’s quirky (and sometimes a little strange) dialogue. Yokai Watch provides a fresh and dynamic twist on the generic Pokémon formula. Story-wise both games follow an incredibly similar and fairly linear narrative. The child-hero protagonist still stands strong in Yokai Watch, giving a wider demographic and a familiar feeling to those already comfortable with the Pokémon franchise.
Some features in Yo-Kai really do feel like they’ve been put in the game to provide fan service for the devoted Pokémon following. Like, remember when Pokémon put monsters into balls? Yeah, they died, and now they’ve come back as ghosts. The main “Yokai” (Yokai is the Japanese word for a ghost, phantom, or supernatural monster) you travel with, Whisper, is a walking-talking Pokédex of sorts – full of any information you may need on specific species (it also doesn’t help that he quite literally comes out of a two-tone coloured stone ball in the first place).
In terms of their similarities, there is a lot to mention. Throughout the game, if you use specific Yokai often enough, they will evolve into stronger ones… No clue where they got that crazy idea from. You can also discover items to be used in battle, in wild and overgrown locations – or hidden around secret areas (or you can buy them at the Poké-Kai-Mart). These tiny features could possibly have been placed in Yokai to immediately give players an easy-to-follow structure.
Capturing Yokai & Quest System
Another system Yokai Watch chose to replicate is the messed up economy portrayed throughout the Pokémon series. As opposed to gaining money as a reward for defeating a trainer, for some strange reason, the feral Yokai ghosts seem to have money on them – which they gift to you if you beat them. You also acquire significantly more cash for defeating stronger/boss Yokai. Essentially, we continue to teach children that it’s totally normal and valid to beat the already-dead for monetary gain.
On the other hand though, Yokai Watch doesn’t allow you to go out and simply capture a ghost against its will – they have to like you! You befriend Yokai, instead of running around a field, repeatedly throwing balls at their heads. Instead, you can give food and items out to them as treats, in order to attempt to win them over, similar to entering the Safari Zone in Pokémon. This befriending system adds a slice of variety, giving Yokai Watch its own personality when it comes to building your team.
With its quest system, Yokai Watch seems to offer an extended RPG feel – this is a particular feature in this title that I have attached to. The game gives you small and optional side quests and challenges to work on, that also give you XP – a way of levelling up that feels much less of a grind when compared to endless battles with low-level Pokémon. You also get given repeated quests from various characters a few times over, allowing you to really develop a relationship with your surroundings. Equally to this, each of your Yokai gains a little bit of experience from quests and battles, as opposed to a singular Pokémon gaining a whole lot of experience from battles – leaving other members of your party severely under levelled (we’ve all been there, sorry Metapod, you’re not evolving anytime soon).
Yokai Watch Battles
Another interesting feature of Yokai Watch is its battle encounter methods. You can run away from a wild ghost and avoid contact if you want to – removing the infuriating “yet again, I’m stuck in long grass unable to escape from a Nidoran”. Alongside this, the battle system is diverse and actually pretty unique! Being an undeniable Pokémon clone, it was a brave decision to not go for turn-based mechanics.
Battle mechanics revolve around having 3 of your creatures out at any given time – you can activate their special attacks via small interactive patterns (such as popping bubbles, or tracing lines). The battles can also just sort of happen. Yokai fight their opponent’s by themselves. So, if you wish, you can choose to let them fight it out independently, then step in when you feel necessary. For me personally, this adds a sense of tension and speed that Pokémon never really had.
Yokai VS Pokemon Character Designs
One of my only real gripes is the character design. We’ve all had a few complaints to make about Pokémon from the 5th generation onwards, characters such as Trubbish being the main offender. But Yo-Kai really takes the biscuit when it comes to literal named creatures. On my list of monstrosities we have Pandle, Snotsolong and Cheeksqueak (no, really, do yourself a favour and Google them). Was this intended as a joke on Yokai’s part, perhaps a small dig at Pokémon’s dying creativity? I mean disasters such as Grainpa (who is literally a grain of rice crossed with a grandpa) exist, so who can say for sure.
In some cases, I’ve noticed a few of the creatures in Yokai Watch display a shining resemblance to already existing monsters in the Pokémon universe. It’s like they’ve altered the colours and added an extra limb then sold them off as their own creation. One to look out for is definitely Shellder and Spenp – it’s as if they’re cheap black market Chanel rip-offs. Not quite pedigree, but some weirdly recognisable cross-breed.
Youkai Watch has an endless amount of similarities to its founder of the genre, but it does offer a few unique twists that allow the game to stand out. The only major differences are subtle, but not unnoticed at times. The most obvious ones, however, are quickly looked over – such as the fact all of your Youkai are stored on a watch (now the name makes sense). This really didn’t stand out for me, and it practically became background knowledge. The only time you really see your watch is during battle sequences – and even then I still forgot about it being, y’know, a watch. The watch attempts to make itself apparent by sending you a signal when creatures are near you – a feature probably borrowed from somewhere (Pokétch or Poké-Radar ringing any bells?), yet I still didn’t feel any real attachment to my watch.
All things considered, they’re both solid child-friendly RPGs, with unique mechanics and weird but wonderful characters, to be adored by all age groups. Pokémon being the reigning champion, Yokai Watch looks to offer a fresh burst of life into the genre – but will it stand the test of time? The only thing we can say for sure, is both of these games have definitely been pronounced wrongly at some point by someone you know – and you’ve just thought to yourself “c’mon, Pok-a-mans, really?”.