Yo-Kai Watch Physic Specter, the saga goes on

Today, the third game to the duo Yo-Kai Watch games Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls was released. Yo-Kai Watch 2: Physic Specters works the same kind of magic as the Pokémon games have for many years. Adding in new quests, new Yo-Kai, and some great new areas to explore, this is the game to jump into the series if you haven’t done so till now. It’s a polished, charming adventure RPG that can hold its own, even in a gaming world that has a lot of people loving Pokémon.

Some time ago I published an article about Yo-Kai Watch on GameRaven.com, and I feel today is a good day to publish it again on LadiesGamers.com. After all, especially in Japan, Yo-Kai Watch is a phenomenon!

Sometimes curiosity matters more than logic

If you are a gaming enthusiast, I think you will recognize this dilemma: you have your eye on a game, but you find that the game is played on a console or device that you don’t own. What to do? The logical answer would be to stick to all the other games you already have, and enjoy playing them on the devices you already own. End of story.

Leave it to me to come up with excuse for why I really, really needed to import a Japanese 3DS. You see, I wanted to play this one game, even though there was an even larger obstacle. The game was Yo-Kai Watch, the year was 2014, and the obstacle was that the game was in Japanese… and I don’t know any Japanese!

Nonetheless, with my list of Hiragana and Katakana symbols and Google Translate at the ready, I managed to slowly make it half way through the adventure. When the announcement came that the game would finally be released in English I was happy to wait a bit longer and buy it again!

Yo-Kai Watch is no exception to Level-5’s quality record

The reason the game was on my radar to begin with was the fact that it’s made by Level-5. Now, Level-5 is a game developer that is best known for their Professor Layton games. These puzzle games were a huge success in America and Europe, and made a lot of adults pick up a DS for the first time in an effort to train their brain. There are other Level-5 series as well, like Inazuma Eleven and Ni no Kuni, that all share equally high quality. I expected the same high quality in graphics and gameplay in Yo-Kai Watch, and I wasn’t disappointed.

With Yo-Kai Watch Level-5 had another winner on their hands, but it wasn’t an immediate success when it was released in July 2013. It took a couple of months for its success to take off. But when the a TV series of the same name made its debut on Japanese TV in January 2014, sales doubled in two months’ time.

The first game was released in November 2015 in America and in April 2016 in Europe. Though the reception over here was quite good, it was nothing compared to the hype that the games and all their spin-offs have caused in Japan. Japan has had several sequels by now, and some spin-off games too.

Yo-Kai Watch is more than just another Pokémon

The game’s success can almost definitely be attributed to what it’s about. One day, Nate or Katie (depending on who you choose to play as), who is living in a charming little town called Springdale, comes across a strange capsule machine in the woods while looking for bugs to catch.
When they open one of the capsules the first Yo-Kai comes out, called Whisper. Whisper gives you a device known as the Yo-Kai Watch, with which you can find and befriend Yo-Kai (which are essentially various mythical Japanese spirits).

The several hundred Yo-Kai cause all kinds of mischief around town, which should cause the collectors among us to rejoice. You have to win them over by battling with them, using the Yo-Kai that are already in your team.

Often comparisons are made with the Pokémon games, but to be honest, the similarities don’t extend much beyond the fact that it’s a monster collecting games. Let’s just say that I mention a comparison to Pokémon from time to time to paint a more familiar picture of how the game plays. Unlike Pokémon, there are no random battles (something that is quite to my liking). No tripping over enemies left and right. You have to explore the town to find the Yo-Kai, sometimes switching to search mode: a sort of a filtered screen that allows you to see the ghosts. You may spot a wandering spirit, or you may see who is possessed by Yo-Kai, and you will have to free them by battling.

The Yo-Kai that want to be your friend give you their medal. And using that medal, you can call on them when you need them. The fighting itself is quite unique; there are no turn based battles, and you don’t have to choose which move will work best. You serve more as the captain: helping your ghost friends by making sure their HP is replenished, performing mini-games to enable special attacks, lifting status ailments, and directing your teams attacks.

Optimising the use of special moves, making maximum impact with the mini games, and choosing which three of your six Yo-Kai are in battle can make for some frantic fights. But it’s easily managed, as your Yo-Kai team are positioned on a sort of wheel; rotate the wheel and you can immediately decide which three will battle and which three will heal.

From strategy to dancing: Yo-Kai games of all sorts

There have been more Yo-Kai releases by now. Yo-Kai Watch 2 was released in July 2014 in Japan, and they used the proven concept of twin games (Bony Spirits and Fleshy Souls), with a third one released today called Physic Specters. This second installment has taken everything that was good in the first game, and expanded on it. Plus they added what was sorely missing in the first entry: being able to swap Yo-Kai over the internet. In Japan the third set of games have been released July 2016 (Sushi and Tempura), in December 2016 followed by a third wrap-up game Sukiyaki.

And that’s just the main series. Several spin-off and cross-over titles have been released on the 3DS and Wii U, though none of those have made it outside of Japan yet.

Yo-Kai Watch Busters: Red Cat Team, White Dog Corps, and Moon Rabbit Team expand on the Oni-Busters gameplay that was introduced within Yo-Kai Watch 2. In the games (played on the 3DS) four players face up against other Yo-Kai and Boss Yo-Kai in a beat ‘m up action style gameplay, including online multiplayer action.

Then there’s Yo-Kai Watch Dance: Just Dance Special version for Wii U, which is a collaboration between Level-5 and Ubisoft.  There’s also been Yo-Kai Watch: Three Romances (SangoKushi), a collaboration with Koei. Koei is known for their Romance of the Three Kingdom series of turn-based tactical role-playing games, and I think it’s really interesting to play a mashup of the two genres.

America hasn’t been completely ignored, at least, with a couple of mobile games for iOS and Android. Like Yo-Kai Watch Wibble Wobble, a bright and colorful adventure that can be played by kids and adults alike. A matching puzzle game, it involves a lot of wibbly wobbly Yo-Kai that must be connected together in order to make a big bubble pop. It’s level-based and each battle is a spot on the world-map. Every wild Yo-Kai you meet may befriend you too, so you can add his medal to your collection. While there’s not much of a storyline in the game, did I mention it’s free to download?

The Yo-Kai merchandise: or, how to make a craze

If there’s one thing that Level-5 has been tackling in a grand way with the Yo-Kai Watch series, it is the creation of a new pop-culture franchise. Although the hype has died down a little bit 4 years after the initial release, you still can’t seem to avoid it in Japan.

There’s an anime series on TV and there’s a graphic novel series which won two prestigious publishing awards. Never mind that there are lots of toys and merchandise available. Jibanyan, the red cat-like Yo-Kai, seems to be everywhere.

But the real coup-de-grace is the toy medals. You see, you can buy actual Yo-Kai medals for the toy Yo-Kai watches, and those medals are nice collectible items.
They can be scanned into the mobile app Yo-Kai Watch Land, which will tell you how rare your medal is. You can take pictures with your favorite Yo-Kai, see your medals come to life, and play little arcade games with them.

In Japan the toy and merchandise sales alone have already totaled $ 1 billion (June 2015), and that’s not counting the game sales (about 7 million games sold).

Yo-Kai is definitely Japanese, but is it too Japanese?

Which brings me to the obvious question: is the game too distinctly Japanese to succeed in the same big way in America and Europe? The Yo-Kai in these games are all based directly on spirits or phantoms from Japanese folklore (or yōkai). Because of this, a lot of these Yo-Kai mean something to the Japanese kids; they’ve heard them feature in a lot of tales and stories.

In the game, you’ll find that Yo-Kai are mostly mischievous; playing pranks on people or changing their characteristics when they bewitch them. When handling marketing for North America, Nintendo choose to highlight this rather than the more cultural aspect . They had the Yo-Kai play pranks on the spokespersons Reggie Fils-Aime and Bill Trinen for the company in their add campaign. I think it was a good approach to take, better not to let the Yo-Kai appear too mysterious or suspicious. They wanted the game to be kid-friendly first and foremost.

Still, there’s no denying that the game and the Yo-Kai are very Japanese. The folklore doesn’t mean anything to American kids, and there are lots of cultural references and inside jokes. I bet the game was a nightmare to translate.
Maybe that’s why it took them forever to release the first game in America, and I don’t know if that was the smartest move. The second set of games are more polished and some of the kinks were ironed out, so maybe it would have been better to skip the first one altogether.

But it would seem that Level-5 is thinking ahead though. The third game that is released in Japan takes place in the USA, as Nathan’s (or Katie’s) family moves to St. Peanutsburg for business. Maybe this will make it easier to localize.

Yo-Kai’s rise may be slow to start, but it’s inevitable

Yo-Kai Watch might have taken its’ time to work its way into Western pop-culture. But by now the group of fans is growing. And why not? It’s charming, original, and a high-quality taking on the ever-popular monster gathering genre!



  1. I really enjoyed reading this! I know Yo-Kai was big in Japan, but I didn’t realize there were so many games released! I was really excited when the first game came out and bought it almost right away, but sadly, I have yet to play it. Too many other games are taking up my time! 🙂

    1. Thank you! I must admit that I feverishly played the first game on my Japanese 3DS, but since then I did buy the games, but have hardly played them. So many good games, so little time!

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