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Yo-kai Watch Review: Clockwork Menagerie

/ Dec 3rd, 2015 No Comments

Yo-kai Watch

JRPGs have a niche audience in the U.S., but it is tough to sell these types of games to a broader audience. This left Nintendo in a strange place regarding Yo-kai Watch. Smartly, Nintendo recognized this and branded the game effectively. Instead of selling Yo-kai as the Yōkai of Japanese folklore, which are mischievous spirits that take on animal or ghost forms, Yo-kai are simply Yo-kai; entities unto themselves.

This was what Nintendo had to do get Yo-kai Watch to U.S. audiences, and it is a good thing because the game is a wicked amount of fun.

Yo-kai Community Watch

The inciting incident was innocuous. A simple matter of friendly childhood rivalry; what started out as an innocent challenge to catch some bugs ended up changing Kate/Nate’s life. The trivial turned into the extraordinary when she happened upon a bizarre stone capsule machine near a giant tree. In the blink of an eye, a mysterious, yet oddly friendly ghost-like creature appeared.

It turns out this ghostly figure named Whisper was your average, run-of-the-mill Yo-kai butler with an amazing proposition for young Kate/Nate. What is a Yo-kai? With the help of her trusty Yo-kai watch, Kate/Nate will find out.

Yo-kai Watch

Whisper is full of useful information and bad jokes.

After learning to detect and befriend Yo-kai, Kate can use her ability and the help of friendly Yo-kai to solve problems. It becomes evident that these mysterious little Yo-kai are responsible for many of the troubles happening around the city, prompting Kate to help find troublesome Yo-kai to fix the city’s ills. More than that, she discovers those close to her are having issues as a result of the mischievous Yo-kai. While she resolves everyday issues, she has to help her parents stop fighting, return important papers to her dad, prevent a divorce and uncover the truth behind mysteries at the museum and school. As she fixes these problems, she learns about an evil lurking that could threaten the world. It is up to Kate, her Yo-Kai and the Yo-kai watch to prevent a cataclysm.

Often in JRPGs, the stakes are impossibly high right from the jump. It is rare when the conflict is driven by small personal problems. The games in the genre that focus on the everyday issues and character problems without getting lost in the grave doomsday trap end up being the most endearing. Yo-kai Watch never gets bogged down in the grand operatic end of days plot, which gives the story room to focus on Kate’s life as it relates to her friends, family and community.

Yo-kai Watch

Yo-kai can appear anywhere and at any time.

Most of the incidents that hint at the larger narrative start innocently, like getting to know a friend better by sneaking into a museum after dark. The game’s greatest charm doesn’t lie in the adorable designs of the Yo-kai or even its sense of humor, but in rooting the fantastic in reality. This interpersonal focus gives Yo-kai Watch a lot of heart.

Gotta Befriend ‘Em All

Once Kate gets the handy Yo-kai watch, she can use it to look at the world with a special lens. It allows her to see and discover Yo-kai hiding among us. While this lens can be used to search around the town in various spots to look for Yo-kai, its primary use is to ferret out mischievous Yo-kai hiding in plain sight.

Finding these Yo-kai and stopping them from inspiriting people’s personalities and behaviors is the main sort of side quests in the game. Often, the problem is as simple as being extremely hungry or being incredibly wasteful with money; other times, it is a Yo-kai inspiriting someone to be hyper aggressive and fitness oriented. These problems are not life threatening, but they are destructive. It is all good karma to use your Yo-kai watch and your Yo-kai to resolve these problems, help the community and get some sweet experience and items.

Yo-kai Watch

Battles are an interesting mix of management and loafing.

Taking on side quests isn’t the main focus of the game, but it is the best way to level up Yo-kai. Fighting isn’t traditional turn-based combat. Yo-kai act on their own depending on their personality, meaning you don’t directly control their actions. A rough Yo-kai will be more prone to attacking, while carefree Yo-kai will loaf (not act). Combat isn’t about micromanaging the six Yo-kai under your control, but keeping an eye on the flow of battle.

Each Yo-kai has a special move that can help turn the tide of battle, which is where somewhat passive combat becomes active. To activate these special moves, you perform a gesture action on the touchscreen, like drawing sigils or popping bubbles. While your Yo-kai can positively buff themselves through inspiriting, they can also get degenerative effects through inspiriting by enemy Yo-kai. It is up to you to keep an eye on enemy-inspirited Yo-kai to switch them out of battle, and purify them by performing a gesture action on the touchscreen. Battles amount to keeping your Yo-kai in good health, while using special actions at the right moment.

While combat is an interesting mix of active and passive participation, the real thrill in Yo-kai Watch is befriending the Yo-kai hidden throughout the human world. Yo-kai are hidden all around the town in a number of nooks and crannies. Your Yo-kai watch can detect their hiding spots. You’ll befriend certain Yo-kai throughout the story, but most Yo-kai are likely to form a friendship with you if you feed them with the right type of food. Certain Yo-kai respond better to candy, while others prefer meat, and each food item has different levels of quality that make them more appealing to Yo-kai.

Yo-kai Watch

Jibanyan is really the heart and soul of Yo-kai Watch.

However, feeding Yo-kai a favorable food is not a guarantee that they will befriend you. The game’s biggest flaw is that befriending Yo-kai is mostly based on chance. Since there are no random battles, you need to seek out certain spots where Yo-kai hang out and hope you run into the one you want. Then there is a rather large deal of luck in befriending it because you can only befriend one Yo-kai per battle and only feed a food item once to a single Yo-kai in battle. Despite the randomness of befriending Yo-kai, there is still a good deal of fun in trying to increase your Yo-kai collection.

One element that adds some depth to the collecting is the ability to fuse Yo-kai. At a certain point in the game, you can start fusing Yo-kai together and with items. These fusions can result in some high class, powerful Yo-kai. Fusions are fairly light, with only one-on-one fusion possibilities, but it still goes further than the average monster-collecting game.


Yo-kai Watch has a lot of heart thanks to an endless supply of charming and adorable Yo-kai to befriend. The story smartly focuses on interpersonal relationships without getting too lost in apocalyptic grandeur. Combat involves a cool mix of active and passive actions, turning it into something unique. Yo-kai Watch has everything going for it to be Nintendo’s next big thing, if people give it a chance.

Yo-kai Watch was reviewed on 3DS using a copy of the game provided by the publisher.


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Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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Gaming Illustrated RATING



Combat is a unique mix of active-time and passive micromanagement, but befriending the various Yo-kai and discovering fusions is endless fun.


The variety of environments leaves a little to be desired, but the art design of the Yo-kai is top notch.


While Yo-kai Watch has a charming score, the voice overs are a bit rough.


Yo-kai Watch’s story builds slowly with subtle hints at the larger picture in the game’s early chapters. It is the juxtaposition of the seemingly mundane problems that Nate/Kate has to deal with the actual stakes of the story that makes it compelling.