Level-5's Yo-Kai (roughtly translates to spirits) are released in Europe today (April 29). We're talking about a phenomenon that's been topping the charts in Japan for some years now, to such an extent that everybody on the Internet (us included, until recently) contributed to its success by constantly comparing the franchise to Pokémon. Is this comparison justified? In this article we're going to clarify the areas where the two games are similar (there's really not that many) and the elements that make Yo-Kai Watch a unique concept, especially in terms of gameplay.
Yo-Kai Watch and Pokémon are similar in terms of success, with millions of video games sold, sprouting many spin-off manga and anime series, and you can't take two steps in Tokyo without running in to Yo-Kai ads and mascots. A huge amount of merchandise that has already overtaken Japanese stores is getting ready to invade European retailers too. We could say that Jibanyan has earned its place next to Pikachu in the Hall of Fame. Just like the pocket monsters, we're going to get plushies, figurines, costumes, medals and, of course, replica watches so that players can capture their own spirits. If that isn't enough, there will also be books of all kinds, stickers, clothes, and even food. The cartoon series carrying the same name will be released throughout Europe in April or May, along with the game itself of course.
Beyond the massive fanbase and the fact that they're both RPG games, you could argue that both franchises share one common link, which is the collection of creatures and the management of a combat team. Having said that, the way everything is done within that formula is completely different. Yo-kai Watch comes with a very distinctive personality and plenty of creative features, as is usually the case with games from Level-5.
We wrote a detailed review of the game which you can read here, which offers plenty of background about the game and its origins. But after checking that you may well have more questions, and so without further ado, here are some of the areas where Yo-Kai Watch differs more strongly from Pokémon:
The only thing that makes Yo-Kai combat feel a bit like Pokémon is the fact that you can control six creatures, but in Yo-Kai Watch you fight with three spirits simultaneously, in semi-real-time combat. This means that the Yo-Kai attack automatically based on their speed attribute, while the player gives orders that dictate how they choose the adversary that they're going to attack, or that has them perform the powerful final attacks: the Animaximum. There's a limit regarding the healing items that you can use at every turn, as well as items that are useful if you want to befriend opposing Yo-Kai. Since the action is peppered with little mini-games played via the touch screen, it quickly becomes clear that this type of combat doesn't have the same turn-based roots.
The tribal divisions between different Yo-Kai represents another extreme difference when compared to the various types of Pokémon. While some of them work with a rock-paper-scissors setup that dictates the basic combat mechanics, Yo-Kai tribes are useful in helping increase the power of an attack or granting a defensive bonus, especially when you perform formations using Yo-Kai from the same tribe. Players must constantly look for the best way of arranging the six Yo-Kai in their team for the setup that best optimises the various combat bonuses. Then you have to look for those who cast the best Spirit (the spell that strengthens an ally or stops the enemy). Finally, you should generally align those Yo-Kai that work better together, considering their respective abilities and strengths and how each of them complements their team mates.
2. Progression and collection
The way the story plays out and how you find new Yo-Kai is completely different from how it works in Pokémon. In this case, the map is almost fully explorable from a very early stage in the game, unlocking inaccessible areas quite early on.
The discovery of new Yo-Kai is achieved by fulfilling several secondary missions that improve the range of your watch, allowing you to find new spirits. Every time you improve its range, (from the initial E range to the legendary S range) you have to rediscover every area, since the scrubland that seemed harmless before hides powerful Yo-Kai that are just waiting to be discovered when you're ready. It's a really fun spin that forces you to keep investigating an area you think has been completely explored.
Another important element is the development of the Yo-Kai themselves. It's true that they evolve when levelled up, and this is an aspect we know well from years spent training Pokémon. There are Yo-Kai that can change their appearance and sense during combat if they merge with another spirit, and although it's difficult to find the ideal candidate for fusion, it's fun to try out odd and fun combinations that dramatically improve the power of a Yo-Kai.
It's also possible to merge several team objects with gemstones to create powerful amulets that change the attributes of the equipped Yo-Kai, creating mechanics that remind us of the role-playing genre.
4. Story and style
Apart from combat tactics and the spirits you encounter, it's also necessary to mention the visual side of Yo-Kai Watch. Each spirit has something fun, often even ridiculous or silly, regarding its appearance (and there's some fantastic names). Each Yo-Kai is created as a mix between a monster and an absurd parody of what it represents, for example the bravery of a knight.
The technical/artistic side of the game goes much further, and it offers a cartoon style that aims at being homogeneous with the rest of the Yo-Kai Watch products, such as the anime series or the manga. In this regard the expertise of Level-5 means that we're constantly offered faithful representations of the characters and elements drawn from the cartoons.
Regarding the story, in Yo-Kai Watch you can see that the gameplay is strongly linked to the progression of the plot, at least during long sections of the game. The narrative splits into episodes, and these will unlock new areas and dungeons on the main map. There will also be hiding places for powerful Yo-Kai that you won't be able to open until you improve the range of the watch.
In general, the best way of progressing in the game when you don't know what to do is by following the story objective that's shown on the upper side of the screen. However, you shouldn't forget that the Yo-Kai collection is one of the most important elements and something that's essential as you progress through the game.
While the two games share some concepts, such as the collection of monsters (and the fact that both franchises are extremely successful), one shouldn't fall into the trap of describing both games as identical. At first we were amongst those making the Pokémon/Yo-Kai comparison, and for that mistake we apologise. We hope this article has been a useful appetiser for the game as well as able to demonstrate why we shouldn't mix up being the champion of the Pokémon league with saving the neighbourhood from naughty spirits.
Check out our just-published Yo-kai Watch review for more on the game that launches April 29 for Nintendo 3DS.